Solution[H+] Environmental geochemistry and mine water management


News and discussion on mine geochemistry and mine water management

In the following posts, I share some news and discussion on topics relevant to environmental geochemistry and mine drainage management. I hope you will find these notes useful. Regards - Terry Harck

Stellenbosch: What a great place for a conference...

My career started in hydrogeology and, even though my primary interest is now geochemistry, there is a broad overlap with groundwater and I frequently work with hydrogeologists on projects. That is why I am a member of the Groundwater Division (GWD) of the Geological Society of South Africa (GSSA). We hold a conference every two years and in 2017 it was held in Stellenbosch. What a success it was! 

My wife and I stayed in a guesthouse called Just Joey, which was amazing and just around the corner (literally) from Church and Dorp streets. These are crammed with coffee shops, restaurants, museums. All within walking distance! We were entranced by the picturesque heritage buildings. Every morning, we started with a flat white from Kompanjie Koffie. Every evening, we finished with delicious wine.

And what a communication gap...

The main auditorium was packed for the opening session, at least 350 people. The Premier of the Western Cape (Helen Zille) opened the conference for us. With the Western Cape in the grip of a prolonged drought, the potential of groundwater as a source of municipal water supply was a key topic of discussion.

Prof John Cherry's talk immediately followed Ms Zille's. As it gathered momentum, I had to chuckle. Ms Zille was still seated on the stage and I could see her posture express complete disinterest in Prof Cherry's (slightly) technical hydrogeology topic. She had just told us how important groundwater was to managing Cape Town's water crisis and then zoned out of a contribution from an international authority on the subject. This is not a criticism of Ms Zille. It was a glaring example of an issue raised by Shafick Adams, a previous chairperson of the GWD, in his talk later in the conference. He pointed out the yawning chasm in communication between politicians and decision-makers on one side and the technical people, like hydrogeologists (and geochemists), who provide them with information on the other. Shafick challenged us to cross this chasm, rather than lose ourselves in the intricacies of the science we love.

Anyone who has met me in person will probably notice that I love the art of well-crafted communication. I have generally tried to put myself in the place of my audience to try and guess the best way to make my point. I really related to Shafick's talk, but I could not help wondering if the onus on crossing the chasm was only on us technical types. Maybe there is a niche here for a third type: someone who can bridge the distance...

Terry Harck