Mining Report: Water Management Strategies

Mining is a capital-intensive operation and thus the need to manage cost is vital, but increasingly the emphasis has extended to environmental concerns ...

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|Apr 25|magazine11 min read

Mining is a capital-intensive operation and thus the need to manage cost is vital, but increasingly the emphasis has extended to environmental concerns as well. Not only do mines need to operate under increasingly tight budgets, they also need to be environmentally sound; sustainability is a key buzzword in the sector for more reasons than one. One way to ensure efficiency and long-term cost reduction is by implementing an effective water management strategy on-site.

Water management, however is routinely listed as one of the top global challenges facing mine development, production, and even closure. Successful mine water management can mean the difference between operating at a profit or loss – it’s hard to get right.

It is therefore understandable that water in mining is a key concern for operators. As well as driving cost saving and efficiency, mine water management is also important considering emerging trends within the sector. Consider for example that future mining investments will be located in geographical locations where water is scarce (water stressed areas). Furthermore, a decline in grade will increase the intensity of mineral processes and therefore increase the use of the water. Couple these factors with increased sustainability and regulations regarding the control and monitoring of water during the entire mine life cycle and it becomes clear that mining corporations need to sit up and listen when it comes to water management.

The water cycle in mining is complex, and needs to align with the entire mine life cycle. To create a successful water strategy, mining firms need to combine procedures and best practices with software and technology to enable successful management.

Environmental management strategies

First and foremost, it is incredibly important to ensure that the quality of water leaving mine sites in not adversely affecting water users downstream. In order to comply with regulations, mining companies need to develop water management plans to minimize the potential for water contamination, and to prevent the release of polluted water into the environment. Surrounding surface and groundwater quality needs to be monitored, and a number of treatment processes can be used to ensure mine water meets regulatory standards prior to being discharged.

In recent decades there has been a greater emphasis put on the environment, resulting in more stringent regulations worldwide, which has in turn sparked a response from the international mining industry. “Environmentally responsible practices, especially relating to water, have become central to the viability and acceptance of a modern mining operation. For example, if other stakeholders believe a mine is using too much water, or polluting the water, it can lead to social conflict and discontent,” says Mining Facts website.

Water management strategies are used to minimize the environmental impact of mining operations, and are now at the heart of mine development, operation, and restoration activities. Increasingly, companies exceed regulatory compliance in order to provide clean water to surrounding communities.

Water control techniques

As discussed, reducing the potential for water contamination needs to be top of the agenda for mining corporations. Not only does this positively impact upon the surrounding environment but will also drive significant cost saving when it comes to minimizing the volume of water requiring treatment. Mining Global explores a number of techniques including:

Intercepting and diverting surface water 

Surface water such as rain, snowmelt runoff, stream and creeks need to be prevented from entering the mine site - this can be achieved by building upstream dams to reduce potential for water contamination from exposed ore and waste rock.

Recycling water used for processing ore 

Recycling water used for processing reduces the volume of water requiring treatment, driving cost saving and efficiencies across the board.

Capturing drainage water 

Capturing drainage water from precipitation at the mine site through the use of liners and pipes and directing the water to tailings dams in order to prevent potentially contaminated water from entering groundwater or flowing off site will help with water management.

Allowing the water to evaporate in ponds 

To reduce the volume of contaminated water, in dry regions, enough water may be evaporated that no water needs to be discharged, resulting in the containment of contaminates at the mine site.

Installing liners and covers on waste rock and ore piles 

This will reduce the potential for contact with precipitation and contamination of groundwater.

The management of water on-site is vital in modern mining. A different combination of strategies can be applied depending on the mine site – technology and software can also be implemented to manage analytics and data. Ultimately mining firms need to manage water on-site for greater profitability, efficiency and environmental planning.