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LUBENGELE TAILINGS DAM, CHILILABOMBWE, ZAMBIA

AS A WETLAND

The Lubengele tailings dam is owned and operated by the Konkola Division of Zambia
Consolidated Copper Mines Limited. Covering an area of almost two square kilometres,
it is used as the repository for tailings from the concentrator. Tailings is deposited along
the eastern perimeter of the dam and clarified water is abstracted by means of a decant
tower located approximately midway along the southern wall. Clarified water flows into
the Kafue River, a major tributary of the Zambezi. The decant outflow is controlled by a
penstock valve located at ground level, this has successfully controlled the level of water
in the dam and there has never been any incidence of overtopping. The dam is also fed by
three streams, one on the north-eastern corner and two on the western side. Domestic
water for the purification plant in Konkola Township is abstracted from the north-western
corner of the dam.

The dam is constructed by the upstream method of dam-wall building using cycloned
plant tailings, having started with a rock toe. Under-dam drainage was never installed and
the effect of seepage through the dam wall is now evident (Figure 1). In an attempt to
keep the toe of the dam wall dry, the author recommended that deep-rooted vegetation be
planted at intervals of about ten metres to assist by evapotranspiration (Figure 2).

Wind blown tailing is a nuisance, especially during the dry period from April to
November. In order to combat this dust pollution problem, the author embarked on an
aggressive program of revegetation (Figures 3, 4 and 5). The wind-borne tailings also
posed a problem during the early stages of the revegetation program by sand blasting the
saplings and grasses, to combat this hazard, wind breaks had to be built (Figure 6) and
young trees were protected around the trunk at ground level to prevent debarking by
airborne sand particles. The hardiest indigenous species of plant were selected by
conducting an inspection at the end of the dry season - those that appeared healthy and
had lush vegetation despite the long dry spell therefore had good drought resistance, an
imperative for growing on coarse tailings. Some species such as the guava tree shown in
Figure 7 even had their own form of adaptation. Here, instead of growing upwards, the
guava tree spreads outwards thus ensuring that the "soil" around its roots is shielded from
the desiccating effect of the tropical sun. At the same time the tree ensures that all its
dropped leaves are recycled to its own nutritional advantage.

It was customary for the Division to cut as much of the reeds, grasses and floating
vegetation from the area in the vicinity of the decant tower (Figure 8). On closer
examination of the stems of the cut plants, the author found that a prolific growth of
bacteria and algae was present. As head of the department in charge of the tailings dam
and its effluent, the author instructed that the practice of weeding be terminated and only
"selective clearing" be carried out if attenuation of excess water from the dam is
threatened by the growth of aquatic flora.

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Over a two-year period, 1992-1994, the growth of reeds at the effluent discharge end of
Lubengele tailings dam, Konkola, Zambia was encouraged. This was contrary to Musi
tailings dam at Luanshya, Zambia, where reeds were cut to allow the free discharge of
water. Lubengele utilised a decant tower to release effluent while an open spillway was in
use at Musi dam. Effluent from Lubengele was discharged into the Kafue River whereas
discharge from Musi was recycled to the concentrator plant. At the end of the analysis
period, a significant improvement in the water quality was observed. Microbial analysis
revealed that the major micro organisms associated with the reed beds were
Desulfovibrio nigrificans and Desulfovibrio vulgaris. The results obtained are tabulated
below.

TABLE 1

LUBENGELE TAILINGS DAM

ANALYSIS TAILINGS VEGETATION RIVER


FEED CUT NOT BEFORE
CUT MINE
pH 7.8 8.0 8.1 7.6
Suspended Solids 104 27 19 12
Dissolved Solids 324 156 128 89
Total Copper 0.9 0.3 0.2 0.1
Dissolved Copper <0.1 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1
Total Iron 1.8 0.9 0.7 0.6
Dissolved Iron <0.1 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1
Total Manganese 0.1 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1
Dissolved Manganese <0.1 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1
Total Cobalt <0.1 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1
Dissolved Cobalt <0.1 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1
Dissolved Sulphate - 37 20 -
Conductivity 471 216 203 144

All analyses in milligrams per litre except for pH and conductivity

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FIGURE 9: END RESULT OF GOOD ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP,
PRISTINE KAFUE RIVER

RAMOUTAR SEECHARRAN (KEN) BSc(Hons), MSc(Eng), ACSM,


DIC, FIMM, MCIM, MEIZ, CEng
ENVIRONMENTAL CONSULTANT