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‘Galamsey is killing water bodies’

polluted waterThe heavy pollution of water bodies is making it too expensive for the Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL) to operate water treatment plants in many mining communities.

Under the circumstance, the GWCL is compelled to shut down the water treatment plants in those areas or drill boreholes for water supply to the communities.

Currently, the GWCL has shut down one of its treatment plants at Odaso which supplied water to parts of Obuasi and surrounding areas in the Ashanti Region because the cost of chemicals used for the treatment of water from the Oda River has skyrocketed due to the pollution of the river.

The GWCL had to shut down its water treatment plant at Kyebi for one-and-half years due to the pollution of the Birim River.

The heavy pollution of the Offin River is also making the operation of water treatment plants for some communities in the Central Region a very expensive option.

The Chief Manager in charge of Public Relations at the GWCL, Mr Michael Agyeman, told the Daily Graphic that in times of such shutdowns, the GWCL concentrated on supplying water to health and educational institutions.

“For the general public, they have to fend for themselves; we can’t do anything about it,” he remarked.

It is for this reason that the people in the mining community of Tontokrom in the Amansie West District in the Ashanti Region are now relying on the use of sachet water for cooking.

Mr Agyeman said, under the circumstances, the GWCL was resorting to the drilling of boreholes for water supply in those communities since it could no longer rely on surface water.

He said the GWCL was compelled to drill boreholes for the people of Dunkwa and surrounding areas because “we cannot rely on River Offin.”

GWCL operational challenges

As a result of the heavy pollution of rivers and water bodies through mining activities, the cost of water treatment by the GWCL has increased substantially.

A comparative analysis of production cost indicates that the GWCL spends GH¢0.39 and GH¢0.2395 per cubic metres in respect of water treatment at the Odaso and Barekese plants respectively.

Mr Agyeman said the pollution of the intake water also led to frequent breakdown of equipment and destruction of water pumps and filters.

Some mining communities may not have been rolled over to boreholes yet, but the pollution of the intake water affects water supply to them due to reduced down time.

Down time is the period required by GWCL engineers to switch pumps for maintenance work to be done on them.

But because of the high turbidity of the intake water due to pollution from ‘galamsey’ activities, the GWCL is compelled to do maintenance work more frequently.

That reduces the down time, leads to loss of production hours and ultimately affects production build-up and water supply, especially to upland areas.

The acting Executive Secretary of the Water Resources Commission (WRC), Mr Benjamin Ampomah, agreed that under the circumstances, it was better to resort to underground water for the affected communities.

Pollution of rivers

The challenges of the GWCL in respect of water treatment can be well appreciated on a visit to some mining communities in the Amansie West and Amansie Central districts in the Ashanti Region and the Upper Denkyira East District in the Central Region.

On a recent visit to those areas, the Daily Graphic came to terms with the claims of the GWCL, having seen the terribly polluted rivers, as illegal small-scale miners had blocked the courses of the water bodies for mining activities.

At Tontokrom in the Amansie West District, the colour of the River Oda had become brownish and thick, or to bring the description home, it had become like ‘Tom Brown’ porridge – thick and dull.

In some instances, one could see traits of oil on the surface of the river, apparently from the equipment used by the illegal miners.

The situation was not different at Dunkwa where River Offin has been badly polluted by the ‘galamsey’ operators.

Water quality

Generally, the quality of water from rivers and other water bodies has been deteriorating over the years, and according to the WRC, mining is a major contributory factor to the problem.

According to Mr Ampomah, basin officers of the WRC had been monitoring the water bodies regularly and “we can attribute it (pollution) to illegal mining, if you look at the rate of deterioration”.

Since 2005, the WRC has been monitoring the water quality of about 40 water bodies across the country.

The measurement is done in the form of index with the highest being 100 with the following classification: Above 80 – Class 1 or good; from 51 to 80 – Class 2 or fairly good; from 25 to 50 – Class 3 or poor; below 25 – Class four or grossly polluted.

The results are quite disturbing, with the water quality of the River Offin at Dunkwa, for instance, reducing from 57.8 (Class 2 or fairly good) in 2010 to 49 (Class 3 or poor) in 2011, signifying a drop of 8.8 in quality.

With regard to River Pra at Twifo Praso, the deterioration of water quality was even worse, dropping by 9.9 from 58.9 (Class 2 or fairly good) in 2010 to 49 (Class 3 or poor) in 2011.

Although the Birim River at Osino maintained its class, it nevertheless dropped in quality by 5.6 from 56.8 (Class 2 or fairly good) in 2010 to 51.2 (Class 2 or fairly good) in 2011.

Given the trend of deterioration and the increased illegal mining activities in Dunkwa, Twifo Praso and other areas, one could only imagine the state of water quality of the three rivers as of now.

The only exception to the negative trend was the Brimso River at Kakum whose water quality improved,  albeit marginally from 59.7 (Class 2 or fairly good) in 2010 to 60.7 (Class 2 or fairly good) in 2011.

He attributed the improvement in water quality of the Brimso River to the fact that it flowed through a forest reserve with limited impact of human activity.

Mr Ampomah also stressed the need to take a critical look at improving the quality of water from rivers and other water bodies.

Consequences

It is said that “water is life”, and rightly so, as the River Offin, in the past, was a source of life as communities along the river drank directly from it.

But with its heavy pollution now, life in the River Offin (including fish and as source of drinking water) is dead.

Illegal small-scale miners have descended into the river with excavators and other equipment, digging for gold from the bed of the water body.

The Director of Mining at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Mr Ransford Sakyi, said silt had a serious effect on the ecology of water bodies.

He said the use of mercury and other chemicals was even more serious because fishes in the rivers got contaminated and people who ate such fishes would be at risk of death.

The WRC acting Executive Secretary said: “It’s unfortunate the communities themselves allowed these things to go on. The impact has now become more manifest.”

He advised the affected communities, particularly schools and health facilities located in those areas, to consider rain water harvesting, boreholes and underground water as alternative sources of water for domestic use.

“The cost in the long run is cheaper than using sachet water,” he said; adding, “we should not leave out continuous education.”

Way forward

Ghana requires a substantial amount of money to dredge and clean the rivers and water bodies heavily polluted by illegal small-scale miners.

The EPA Director of Mining said there was the need to clean the rivers and water bodies thoroughly, especially in instances where they were polluted with chemicals.

Mr Sakyi said the de-contamination of the polluted rivers could also be done by the use of chemicals, but he admitted that that option was very expensive.

The challenge for the government now is that it may not readily have the financial resources to tackle the problem expeditiously.

In Mr. Ampomah’s opinion, the government should sell the excavators seized from the illegal small-scale mining sites to offset the cost of dredging the affected rivers and water bodies.

“The most important thing is to make the water flow,” he said; adding that even after dredging, it would take a long time for the river and water bodies to undergo self regeneration and regain their natural freshness and usefulness.

Mr Ampomah said the period for the regeneration of the rivers and water bodies would, however, depend on the degree of their pollution and the absence of activities that negatively impact on their quality.

He said besides enforcing the law, there was the need to create alternative livelihood projects for mining communities to keep them away from illegal mining and help protect the land and water bodies.

Mr Ampomah said there was also the need to plant economic trees along the banks of the water bodies, while sustaining law enforcement and strengthening coordination among regulatory institutions to enhance effective monitoring.

He said the problem at hand was not the responsibility of one institution; it required the collective effort of all.

“We don’t have any choice but to make it our corporate business to bring our water resources back to life,” he remarked.

By Kofi Yeboah/Daily Graphic

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Reporting Oil and Gas project was launched on 4th June 2009atTakoradi, Western Region, Ghana by Penplusbytes (PPB – www.penplusbytes.org) with the vision of providing a one stop online information and knowledge about Ghana’s oil and gas sector
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