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An assessment of the impact of different land use activities on water quality in the upper Olifants River catchment

JM Dabrowski
LP de Klerk


Routine sampling of water quality was conducted at sites along a longitudinal gradient from upstream to downstream in the Olifants River to determine spatial trends in nutrient and metal concentrations and to relate these trends to changes in land use activities in the catchment. In addition, once-off sampling was conducted at a number of sites located downstream of current mining, abandoned mining, agriculture, wastewater treatment works (WWTWs) and industry. Nutrient concentrations were relatively high and a number of sites within the catchment had average N:P ratios that were indicative of eutrophic to hypertrophic conditions. Routine and once-off sampling indicated that wastewater treatment works contribute high nutrient loads to the system. Trend analysis of Department of Water Affairs (DWA) data indicated significant positive trends in ortho-phosphate at 12 of 14 stations in the catchment. An increase in sulphate concentrations from upstream to downstream indicates that mining activities have a progressively greater impact on water quality with increasing distance downstream. While dissolved metal concentrations frequently exceeded chronic and acute effect aquatic ecosystem health guidelines (particularly aluminium, copper and zinc), there was no observable trend from upstream to downstream. Once-off sampling showed high variability in water quality parameters downstream of current mining activities, and some sites showed higher metal concentrations in comparison to other land use activities. However, the contribution of current mining activities to metals is low in comparison to the contribution from abandoned mines. Hydrological data showed that acidic rivers contribute proportionally higher flow volumes in comparison to neutral rivers during the drier winter months, which may significantly impact on the lower stretches of the upper Olifants River and into Loskop Dam. A prolonged drought period will most likely result in severe impacts to the lower reaches of the Olifants River and to Loskop Dam. Improved management and maintenance of wastewater treatment works and rehabilitation and/or treatment of abandoned mines and associated acid mine drainage are crucial. Proper rehabilitation of current mining activities is essential to avoid or minimise acid mine drainage related impacts in the future.

Keywords: acid mine drainage, land use, metals, nutrients, Olifants River

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1816-7950
print ISSN: 0378-4738