Water represents significant risk for mining operations. Image: Pixabay
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Water in mining: balancing risk with opportunity

Five articles on water management for 21st Century mining operations

It’s interesting to see how the conversation around water in mining has evolved in recent years.

When I started out as a mining journalist 15 years ago, I was often tasked with writing features based around pumps and pipes, mine dewatering, sometimes water treatment or desalination…

The solutions covered were interesting, but what struck me was the way in which water was regarded. There was either too much or too little of it.

Although integral to the mining process, the industry seemed to (some companies still do today) see the presence of water on site and the challenges it brought as a bit of a nuisance. Just another risk to be mitigated.

It’s only been in the past five years that I’ve been asked to write articles that consider water in a more positive and holistic way – as a tool to create social change, to generate green electricity, to re-wild the landscape post extraction.

Waterless mines are a fantastic ambition, and something that I hope to see before 2050. The benefits that dry comminution, separation, beneficiation etc. could bring to the table in water starved areas are undeniable.

However, I would argue that not all mines could or should be waterless in the future. (Closed-loop processes and operations are another matter. One that just makes good sense.)

If we look beyond risk, the opportunities that water offers mining companies to partner with indigenous peoples for social growth are significant. Likewise, where poor water quality exists, mining companies have the chance to leave local environments in a better state than when they found them through proper treatment.

It may require a little digging (excuse the pun) and a healthy dose of imagination but, if we care to look, there will be many positive opportunities, however small.

Identifying them will elevate the status and value of water which, in turn, will inspire more responsible management practices and boost returns. The process is cyclical, and it will balance out the associated risk creating a net positive effect.

Wherever your company is in its journey with water, here are five excellent articles/reports to further your research.

  1. Canadian Mining Journal, January 2022 How holistic water management supports mining’s ESG goals David Kratochvil of BQE Water examines how holistic water management practices across the mine lifecycle can help miners towards their sustainability, inclusivity and social acceptability goals. He explains it much more eloquently than I did above
  2. Stantec, January 2022 Native American communities receive renewable drinking water technology through Resolution Copper and Stantec A brilliant example of how mine water management and innovation deployments can generate shared value. Also, a mind blowing technology in action!   
  3. WaterOnline.com, January 2021 Building trust with stakeholders through transparency and consistency in water quality reporting Alice Evans looks at how water quality control can help address the trust deficit in mining
  4. ICMM, August 2021 Water reporting, good practice guide Because you can’t manage what you can’t measure. The latest version of ICMM’s water reporting guide is a cornerstone of good mine water management. Whether a member or not, all companies can aspire to best practice
  5. North American Mining, June 2021 Toward a waterless mine Jonathan Rowland looks at how waterless processes can help to address risk and increase the sustainability of businesses in the mining space. Lots of practical examples here

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