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Article

A Systemic Analysis of the Environmental Impacts of Gold Mining within the Blyde River Catchment, a Strategic Water Area of South Africa

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School of Animal, Plant, and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg 2000, South Africa
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School of Animal, Plant, and Environmental Sciences in System Analysis, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg 2000, South Africa
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Association for Water and Rural Development (AWARD), P.O. Box 1919, Hoedspruit, Limpopo 1380, South Africa
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Institute for Water Research (IWR), Rhodes University, P.O. Box 96, Grahamstown 6140, South Africa
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Constantinos V. Chrysikopoulos
Water 2021, 13(3), 301; https://doi.org/10.3390/w13030301
Received: 18 December 2020 / Revised: 10 January 2021 / Accepted: 11 January 2021 / Published: 26 January 2021
(This article belongs to the Section Water Resources Management, Policy and Governance)
Exploratory modelling of the impact of gold mining on groundwater in a strategic water area of South Africa was undertaken. A systems dynamics (SD) model was developed to simulate the impact of gold mining on water quality, focusing on groundwater contamination risk, within the context of competing developmental priorities around water resource development and the socio-economic gains from gold mining. The model also identified interventions to minimise the impacts by the year 2040. The study area was the Blyde River Catchment (BRC), which is part of the Olifants Water Management Area in South Africa. This area is an important contributor, currently and in the future, to freshwater flows and groundwater in the Olifants River Catchment, which is one of South Africa’s most economically important catchments. The model development process included a causal loop diagram­–based problem conceptualisation, followed by the drawing of stock-flow diagrams and the determining of model parameters based on a combination of background literature, data from environmental impact assessments, and from the national Department of Water and Sanitation. The model showed the potential environmental risks of gold mine wastewater production and interventions to minimise these risks. The most effective intervention identified to reduce the risk of groundwater contamination was the development and use of synthetic-lined tailings dams. The baseline simulation result of sulphate loading of 5430 t/year can be reduced by 3070 t/year to give a simulated sulphate load of 2270 t/year in 2040 using this intervention. In comparison, the simulated wastewater recycling intervention only reduced the sulphate load to 4630 t/year and the wastewater treatment interventions to 3420 t/year. This project contributes to the exploratory modelling of an understudied region of the Olifants River Catchment that is a crucial provider of freshwater flows to the Olifants, which is threatened by increasing gold mining in the upper BRC. The SD model highlighted the importance of protecting the dolomitic aquifers in the BRC for the long term sustainability of the catchment, which is particularly important if groundwater development occurs. View Full-Text
Keywords: strategic water area; Blyde River Catchment; environmental impacts analysis; groundwater contamination risk; mitigation measures; system dynamics strategic water area; Blyde River Catchment; environmental impacts analysis; groundwater contamination risk; mitigation measures; system dynamics
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MDPI and ACS Style

Selebalo, I.M.; Scholes, M.C.; Clifford-Holmes, J.K. A Systemic Analysis of the Environmental Impacts of Gold Mining within the Blyde River Catchment, a Strategic Water Area of South Africa. Water 2021, 13, 301. https://doi.org/10.3390/w13030301

AMA Style

Selebalo IM, Scholes MC, Clifford-Holmes JK. A Systemic Analysis of the Environmental Impacts of Gold Mining within the Blyde River Catchment, a Strategic Water Area of South Africa. Water. 2021; 13(3):301. https://doi.org/10.3390/w13030301

Chicago/Turabian Style

Selebalo, Itumeleng M., Mary C. Scholes, and Jai K. Clifford-Holmes. 2021. "A Systemic Analysis of the Environmental Impacts of Gold Mining within the Blyde River Catchment, a Strategic Water Area of South Africa" Water 13, no. 3: 301. https://doi.org/10.3390/w13030301

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