Water and Mining

Presentation on Water and Mining

02.11.2016 |

Dr. Sven Renner was on this theme invited as a speaker and a panelist to the largest Colombian mining conference FERIA MINERA (September, 2016) and to EXPOAGUA (October, 2017) in Lima, Peru. He presented on different aspects of water efficiency in mining and looked at what causes conflict around water resources.

Metal mining, in particular, requires substantial amounts of water for processing ore. However, when the pit is located below groundwater level, water also needs to be removed from the natural system through drainage. The water abstraction can reach several thousand liters per second at larger plants. While the mining sector is extremely water efficient compared to other economic sectors, such as agriculture, this type of water abstraction has a significant impact at local level.

Environmental impact assessments (EIAs) are part of the approval procedure for new mining projects in most countries. Within the EIAs, water abstraction is of particular importance since there has been numerous conflicts between mining companies and local communities concerning water. Often underlying these conflict are conflicting interest in the usage of groundwater reserves, such as for drinking water (with drying wells in the areas around the mine site), for agriculture, or for nature conservation.

Despite the sensitive nature of this issue, water abstraction and the forecast of its local level impact is a particular weakness in EIAs. The models used to predict the effects of water abstraction on, often complex, ecosystems have in general only weak data to rely on. What is more, on the state side, the authorities usually lack capacity for efficient monitoring and evaluation of water management. For many countries with a significant mining sector, a lot of improvement has to be done in the area of water and mining.

That being said, due to the complexity of natural systems, precise predictions of impact caused by water abstraction will be rare, even with better data and improved capacity in state institutions. In order to deal with the long-term uncertainties, joint monitoring and water management in a Water Stewardship, joint by all stakeholders, can be a solution.

Dr. Sven Renner presenting on Water and Mining

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