From Mineweb:

An old saying in the West is that "water flows uphill; towards money." Water was legally defined as a commodity in the year 2000, which paved the way for multinational corporations to buy and manage water systems. In the meantime, industrial use of water is expected to double by 2025 according to current trends.

As UNESCO recently noted, "for some, the water crisis means having to walk long distances every day to fetch enough drinking water—clean or unclear just to get by. For others, it means suffering from avoidable malnutrition or disease caused by drought, flood or inadequate sanitation. Still others experience it as a lack of funds, institutions, or knowledge to solve local problems of water use and allocation."

The many contributions of mining and exploration companies in the development of freshwater sources and systems for isolated or underdeveloped communities richly deserve recognition and praise. Nevertheless, miners must also be aware that—given the world's population boom, the urbanization of developing nations and rural areas in developed countries, the pollution of existing water supplies, the disappearance of wetlands, the alteration of water basins and underground aquifers—it is inevitable that tensions would increase between miners and explorations and local communities and ethnic groups and tribes.

At a recent meeting of Natives Impacted by Mining, Dr. Glenn Miller, Director of Environmental Science and Engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno, noted that "no easy solutions" existed regarding mine water treatment issues for mining. While the technology is evolving slowly, Miller asserts that bonding for long-term water treatment should be required of any new mine.

R. Craig Smith, Nevada State Bureau of Land Management Liaison, advocates the elimination of process fluids through evaporation rather than rinsing of decommissioned heaps. His goal is to reach a steady zero discharge scenario in the decommissioning of heaps, while eliminating the need for millions of gallons of water to rinse heap leach ore. In a talk to Natives Impacted by Mining, Smith said the surety industry is demanding a definitive timeframe for heap decommissioning and rinsing, including phases of decommissioning, when they occur, and developing a standardize approach for bonding purposes.

The evaporation system is reducing the need for water from 5,000 gallons per minute to a range of .5 gallons to two to three gallons per minute, according to Smith. The method also keeps salts and metals on the heap and out of the surrounding environment.

These technological innovations and scientifically-based water management strategies are standard operating procedure for today's modern mining operation. Despite all the science, engineering, regulatory approvals and technical assurances, the average person living in a mining region is probably concerned about the use of cyanide in mining processes, the potential for acid rock drainage to leach heavy metals into rivers and their tributaries, and the massive scale of mine dewatering.

Environmental and human rights NGOs have become especially adept at manipulating these fears among subsistence farmers, indigenous communities and tribes, wildlife conservation, commercial and sports fishery groups, and even other commercial sectors, such as retail jewelers. As a result, mining project permitting can delayed for years. Occasionally, a mining project may be stopped completely as was the case with Newmont's Cerro Quilish project near the Yanacocha Mine, and Manhattan Minerals Tambogrande project, both in Peru.

The engineers, geologists and financial experts, who dominate the ranks of the international mining industry, do not typically take into account another vital water management component: socio-economic concerns and systems. As noted by UNESCO in its recently issued World Water Development Report, "development agendas and partnerships should recognize the fundamental role that safe drinking water and basic sanitation play in economic and social development."

The report acknowledged that "water is a factor of production in virtually all enterprise." Competition between the various sectors for water resources "must be balanced by policies that recognize the ability and responsibility of all sectors to address the issues of poverty and hunger."

UNESCO advocated that governments, private firms and civil society work together in collaborative partnerships. "The focus of the emerging water culture is water sharing: Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) looks for more effective and equitable management of water through increased cooperation. Bringing together institutions dealing with surface water and aquifer resources ... and exploring alternative solutions to resolving disputes, are all part of the process."

Like other water users, mining needs to recognize that its water issues are interrelated with the water issues of agriculture, urban communities, indigenous peoples, and other industries. Growing demand, decreasing supply, and increased competition for resources, necessitates that mining should recognize that its water issues are inter-related with those of other water users. Therefore, a corporate policy which encourages greater transparency, accountability and stakeholder involvement of a mining company's water management strategy may help alleviate the fears of competing water interests.

While individual mining companies may have already implemented such a water management strategy, mining should also consider an industry-wide water management approach. A number of gold mining and exploration companies have already signed the International Cyanide Management Code. The code's objective is to improve cyanide management in gold mining and assist in the protection of human health and reduction of environmental impacts. Consideration by mining and exploration companies to expand the code to address water quality and water management issues might be a logical step. Or, perhaps, an existing mining sustainability program could be expanded to include stakeholder consultation in water quality and water management issues.

If gold mining is willing to discuss and educate stakeholders concerning mining water management issues and strategies, the sector may be rewarded with partnerships that reduce risks, improve bonding and financing, and shorten permitting delays.

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