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Minister asked to set aside approval for risky coal water transfer pipeline

30 April 2019 at 9:00 am

CER attorney Matome Kapa at Eskom's Matimba Coal Power Station in December 2018
CER attorney Matome Kapa at Eskom's Matimba Coal Power Station in December 2018

Earthlife Africa and groundWork, with the Centre for Environmental Rights as their attorneys, have appealed the environmental authorisation for a mammoth water transfer project that plans to supply water to a number of existing and new coal mining and power projects in the water-scarce Waterberg.

The proposed water transfer infrastructure forms part of the Mokolo Crocodile (West) Water Augmentation Project (MCWAP) – which would pump water from the Crocodile (West) River up to the northern mineral coal belt in the Waterberg. The water is earmarked for industrial development and mining, in particular Eskom’s Medupi and Matimba power stations and Exxaro’s mines, and the majority of the water would go to proposed coal mine and power station projects, which have yet to come to fruition.

“As a water scarce country we need to be thinking very carefully about how we can best protect and use our precious water resources, particularly as the impacts of drought from climate change intensify. A water transfer scheme that is intended purely to enable a number of unnecessary, not to mention harmful, coal developments, is a reckless use of our limited water” says Makoma Lekalakala, Director of Earthlife Africa.

The Departments of Water and Sanitation (DWS) and Environmental Affairs (DEA) are adamant that this project should go ahead despite the high environmental and climate impacts and contrary to all evidence that shows that the country should be urgently moving away from coal – not only to reduce the climate and health impacts, but in order to avoid billions of Rands in transition costs.

groundWork Director Bobby Peek says “this project is a good example of a risky and expensive infrastructure project intended simply to prop up a dying coal industry. If it goes ahead, it would enable and incentivise coal plants and mines with more air and water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions at a time when we need to be urgently reducing our emissions and strengthening our resilience to climate change.”

“It is not in the best interests of the country to spend significant sums of money on a project that aims to supply water to developments which are likely, if built, to become stranded assets, as the world intensifies efforts to decarbonise the electricity sector and phase out coal,” says Lekalakala.

The project itself is not without impacts. Assessments by independent experts highlight the high risk that the transfer scheme poses for the Crocodile (West) River, the Matlabas and the Mokolo River catchments. The environmental impact assessment (EIA) did not assess, among other things, the impacts of transferring poor quality water from the donor catchment to the receiving catchments. The EIA does not properly assess the climate or ecological impacts of the project on the surrounding area and communities – communities who will not benefit from the water that will be coming from the pipeline. The authorisation was granted despite the DWS’s own study that climate change is going to have significant impacts on the water sources that are intended to supply the project.

Now that an appeal has been launched, the environmental authorisation is suspended until the appeal is decided by the Minister of Environmental Affairs. Earthlife and groundWork have asked the Minister to set aside the environmental authorisation.


groundWork, Earthlife Africa and the CER form part of the Life After Coal/Impilo Ngaphandle Kwamalahle campaign. This is a joint campaign which aims to: discourage the development of new coal-fired power stations and mines; reduce emissions from existing coal infrastructure and encourage a coal phase-out; and enable a just transition to sustainable energy systems for the people.

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