Transnet uses three million litres of municipal water a month to dampen manganese at its two export terminals in the Port Elizabeth harbour.
The startling figure emerged yesterday – with Nelson Mandela Bay’s dams at a combined level of 25.87%, and a week away from the date on which the Eastern Cape is set to be declared a drought disaster zone – after questions were put to the parastatal.
The dampening is to prevent manganese dust pollution which has angered harbour tenants and affected residents.
The date for the terminals to be moved to Ngqura has been set for 2023. But even once there, with the proximity of vulnerable African penguin colonies and water scarcity likely to continue, the issue is a fraught one.
Transnet Port Terminals (TPT) acting manager Andile Bono said it used 3 000 kilolitres of municipal water a month at the harbour spraying water on the ore as it passed through its different phases of being offloaded from train wagons and trucks, stockpiled and loaded onto client ships.
It paid a rate of R33.50/kl, which was geared to include TPT’s maintenance and sewage requirements, he said.
The monthly manganese water bill ranged from R100 500 to R230 892 when high volumes of ore were processed.
Bono said rainwater harvesting and borehole water were being investigated as alternatives, but “100% municipal water only” was being used at present.
Using seawater would not work as the salt would change the manganese quality.
Asked how this was not already a factor with the ore terminals situated so close to the sea and especially with an onshore wind blowing, he said TPT was guided by the companies that owned the manganese and could not use seawater on the ore.
On the use of grey water, he said only that TPT was investigating the best way to dampen the dust.
Quizzed about the possibility of housing the manganese in an enclosed structure, thus avoiding the need for dampening, he said this was being investigated.
Metro spokesman Mthubanzi Mniki said the municipality encouraged companies to try to make use of other sources of water for non-basic use.
This included borehole water which the metro had made available at a number of sites.
But cognisance had to be taken as to what was suitable for the product, he said.
On whether the metro should perhaps be pressuring TPT to fast-track its investigation of alternative water sources, Mniki said it was already encouraging all companies in this through its programmes.