Dateline Pacific | Radio New Zealand
Hundreds of millions of litres of untreated waste water is to be pumped into a major river in Solomon Islands Guadalcanal province over the next few months.
The authorities have been forced into declaring a state of disaster for the area and truck in huge amounts of water for the communities which rely on the river for their water supply.
Koroi Hawkins reports.
Heavy rain in recent weeks has filled the tailings dam from the Gold Ridge mine to bursting point and the government says the risk of the dam breaching is extremely high. Highly toxic sediment in the dam is a potential hazard for communities living downstream once water is released.
The Director of the Ministry of Environment Joe Horokou says a licence to discharge the waste is in the process of being approved.
JOE HOROKOU: It allows the company to a temporary controlled release of water from the TSF. Their application was for 540,000 cubic metres that is the total that they have applied for to be released from the excessive water level in this TSF.
The water set to be released into the Matapono River equates to 216 Olympic sized swimming pools. A local company Gold Ridge Community Investments Ltd are in talks with investors to reopen the mine after buying it from the Australian company St Barbara in April. St Barbara had repeatedly tried to release the water in a controlled way but its attempts were opposed by the government and local communities who wanted it treated before release.
The local company’s chairperson Walton Naezon says it is ready to go ahead and release 12 million litres per day at the same time monitoring and testing the downstream water quality.
WALTON NAEZON: And it will be controlled by all parties the downstream (communities), the company and the government and the NGOs. So I think I am confident that we are going to discharge clean water not anything related to any chemical.
Despite the chairman’s reassurances one of the conditions of the license is that all downstream communities be provided with water tanks and an alternative water supply source before any pumping begins. The people are represented by the Gold Ridge Community and Landowners Association. Its chairperson Dick Douglas is overseeing the delivery and installation of water tanks in the communities. He says they are only agreeing to the release of water as a temporary emergency measure.
DICK DOUGLAS: The position of the people is that they would like to treat that water. The treatment plant has to be installed and it has to be treated. But because of the risk is very high at the moment. We are working with the government and working with the company to ensure that the community has to be safe.
In order for the gold mine to reopen the tailings dam has to be operational and that cannot happen until all the excess water is released.
Tests conducted by the World Health Organisation in December last year found the untreated dam water is not toxic to humans and any traces of toxins would be further diluted in the rivers.