What happens when miners leave and water comes in? What do you have to watch out for to ensure nature and the environment are not affected negatively? The independent “Mining and Water Forum” trust foundation, which has started up in Essen/Germany (Figure 1), is dedicated to answering questions like these concerning mine water plans. The board of trustees, composed of international experts, aims to investigate the risks and opportunities arising from them – and includes Prof. Christian Melchers, scientific director at the Research Institute of Post-Mining at Georg Agricola Technical University (THGA) in Bochum/Germany, who has been appointed deputy chairman. The findings should help to optimise previous mine water plans for the coal fields in the Ruhr, Saar and Ibbenbüren regions on a sustainable basis. RAG Aktiengesellschaft is supporting the foundation by providing 5 m e over the next five years.
After the last ton of German coal has been brought to the surface at the end of 2018, the aim is for the mine water to rise to a level that will not have a negative impact on the environment. The existing plans have allowed for this. However, critics fear there may be negative effects on drinking water and the environment. According to Prof. Melchers, the discussion shows that there is room to optimise the rise in mine water levels, which could be resolved by further research.
To carry out this research, the foundation has appointed six recognised international experts in hydrogeology – the science of water in the earth’s crust – and mine water to its board of trustees. “We are independent and carry out research for practical applications. Our research results should contribute to developing economically and ecologically sustainable solutions for people and nature,” says chairman Prof. Josef Klostermann, the former director of the North-Rhine-Westphalian Geological Service.
The foundation carries out its own research projects, but also funds third-party projects, explains Prof. Melchers: “Fundamental and applied research is supported. We welcome initiatives from expert groups and the interested public.” A major dialogue event is set to take place later this year as a result. Any interested citizens, authorities or political bodies can participate and contribute their own ideas in order to identify the challenges faced. “In addition, these events aim to help clarify the complex associations of rising mine water levels and therefore to increase acceptance in society.”
The independence of the new foundation is guaranteed. RAG, as a backer, cannot have any influence on the organisation’s work. This is monitored by the foundations association (Stifterverband), which manages the assets. In addition, RAG has committed to taking the experts’ suggestions into account in its mine water plans and to put them into practice.
Besides Prof. Melchers and Prof. Klostermann, the experts of the “Mining and Water Forum” include Prof. Maria-Theresia Schafmeister from the University of Greifswald/Germany, Prof. Christian Wolkersdorfer from the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria/South Africa, Prof. Sylke Hilberg from the University of Salzburg/Austria, Prof. Georg Wieber from the University of Mainz/Germany and Rainer Lüdtke, who coordinates the non-profit-making trust foundation for the foundations association. (THGA/Si.)