The July 2007 issue of International Mining included a fun article Minimizing water use and its pollution. Here is the best part of the article and what I will call the SRK Principles for a Mine Water Plan.

Dr Wood and Peter Shepherd of SRK in Johannesburg say you need to do the following to develop an Integrated Water Management Plan (IWMP) for a mine (I edit to make more readable)

  1. Set water management objectives.
  2. Establish site-specific characteristics of the mine that affect (control) water management opportunities.
  3. Develop tools to monitor and predict water use and water quality impacts.
  4. Set targets or benchmarks for water use and permissible impact (they say pollutant generation, but that sounds funny to me.)
  5. Develop a Water Conservation Improvement Plan (WCIP).
  6. Establish ways in which water that is used on the mine may become polluted.
  7. Establish where water use can be reduced.
  8. Identify where treatment may be economically viable for improving water reuse opportunities and thereby minimizing environmental impacts.
  9. Monitor to determine if targets (point 4 above) are being met.
  10. Review and update the IWMP regularly.

It is not clear to me that they actually intend to say that you need two plans, namely the IWMP and the WCIP. I would have thought that one plan is enough, and that the IWMP would, as a matter of course, set out conservation opportunities and actions.

Regardless, it is a good idea to take a comprehensive look at water use on your mine, establish the water balance for those mine facilities that involve most water consumption and pollution, and set about reducing both water consumption and pollution. It is almost a platitude to conclude that this will probably result in savings of money and reduction of regulatory interaction.

Here are two case histories of mines in Chile that have changed their processes to reduce water use, save money, and get the water they need:

  • Atacama Minerals has switched from heap leaching to agitated leaching to reduce water use.
  • Minera Escondida is spending $870 million to build a desalination plant and facilities to send water 170 km through a 610-mm diameter pipe to augment water supplies.