Pretoria - Millions of litres of groundwater are being pumped out of the Gautrain tunnel in Johannesburg every day, with concerns mounting about the impact on the environment.
An environmental impact study due to have been submitted to the department of water affairs in March has still not been received.
There are specific concerns about the effect of the lowering of the water table on boreholes and vegetation in the environment and questions are being asked about the soil stability in this built-up part of the city.
According to documents held by Sake24 in January this year the department gave its permission for 7.32m litres of water to be pumped out of the tunnel and dumped into the Sandspruit every day.
The Bombela Concession Company, which develops and operates the Gautrain system, as well as the Gautrain Management Agency (GMA), confirmed that the amount of water on which the two parties had agreed is currently being exceeded. Neither, however, answered the question as to how much water is currently being pumped out each day.
The department told Sake24 that, according to reports handed to it, 7.8m litres had been pumped out from April to June, but a reliable source reports that the effluent is millions of litres more.
This excess water is delaying the opening of the rail link between Johannesburg and Pretoria.
The GMA referred questions to Bombela, which after many days has failed to respond to specific questions from Sake24. But in a statement Bombela did say that the amount of water was within the design capacity of the drainage system.Impact study
The department however said it would thoroughly investigate exactly how much water was being pumped out.
When the department agreed to the extension, Bombela Civil Joint Venture (BCJV), a subcontractor of the concession company, was told to apply for amendment of its water licence by March. This application was to be accompanied by a further environmental impact study and preceded by a process of public participation.
The department said no application had yet been received. Public participation has not started. The wrangling between Bombela and government over who carries responsibility is apparently responsible for the delay.
When it had applied to dump water into the Sandspruit, Bombela had indicated that this held no risk to the environment, said the department.
But, it added, this was apart from the possible lowering of the water table and a possible impact on lower-lying parts such as Mushroom Farm Park in Sandton.
These findings needed however to be confirmed by the outstanding application.
The department went on to say that during construction the water table had dropped considerably around Sandton and Park stations.
The new equilibrium would be known only after some years.
But, said the department, there had not yet been any negative consequences resulting from the lowered water table.
In January the department had ordered BCJV to monitor the water levels in boreholes along the route and report its findings every six months.
If the effect was permanent, measures were to be introduced to mitigate the damage.
Vegetation at Mushroom Farm Park was to be monitored every six months as well, and users of groundwater who had suffered damage had to be compensated.
Sake24’s source is worried that at least three golf courses in the tunnel’s immediate environment could be damaged.
As far as water quality is concerned, traces of grease and oil have been found in Sandton water.
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