Securing water resources and quality
The increasing pressure from climate change, population growth and quality of life means that more of the water that is available is needed by the communities. This makes it more challenging for mining operations to secure the water resources they need for their operations. The mining industry has adapted to this added pressure by improving the efficiency of water use and by utilizing alternative water resources, like municipal effluent and seawater, which are less attractive to communities.
Tailings disposal is the activity where most of the water is lost. Therefore, technologies that maximize the recovery of water from tailings help drive the efficient use of water. The same applies to technologies that change the way the ore is processed in order to reduce the amount of fine tailings. Technologies that improve operational efficiency by reducing water consumption can also improve energy efficiency.
Water quality is important at the interfaces of mining when returning surplus water to the environment. Water quality can also define the recovery and grade of the metal concentrate produced. Selecting lower quality water resources can create challenges for mineral processing; in fact, technologies are needed to adapt the water treatment process to ensure that commercially viable mineral processing targets are achieved.
Increasing legislation and other environmental and water security demands put into place by communities steer miners to safer practices and to the transformation of their processes to reduce the environmental impacts of mining. This social pressure also extends to the stock market, where investors see sustainable operations as a prerequisite for a license to operate; there, good water stewardship is rewarded.