Water scarcity is among the main problems facing many societies in the 21st century. Water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century, and, although there is no ‘global’ water scarcity as such, an increasing number of regions are chronically short of water.
Water scarcity is both a natural and a human-made phenomenon. There is enough freshwater on the planet for the seven-odd billion population, but it is distributed unevenly and too much of it is wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed.
We have a responsibility not only as individuals, but also as a business to ensure we play our part in ensuring the sustainability of our world’s natural resources.
Sustainability, minimising harm and redressing environmental wrongs is all about taking a long-term perspective, and that is core to what we do as a business.
Dave Walker, Technical Director, Mining & Minerals spoke to Mining Magazine about some of the key issues of water resourcing within the sector and gave examples around the world where SLR has been involved in:
one or more aspects of sourcing water
conserving water resources
meeting the challenges of conflicting resources demands
minimising impacts on water sources
addressing legacy issues to reduce existing impacts or clean up damage already incurred
In a four week series we will address each of the main themes covered in the artcle. The first looks at the role environmental concerns and government regulations play in water sourcing for mines.
The role of government regulations and internationally accepted guidelines (e.g. IFC) is clear; They provide a general basis for decision making, protection of rights, arbitration and impact management through a combination of rewards (permits, concessions, etc.) and punishment (fines, permit revocation, and other punitive measures) for infractions. It is the function of the regulator to apply and police the rules.
The shortcoming of any rules based implementation comes when balancing competing rights to access to water resources, allowing limited impacts, or the rational apportionment of either cost or blame as the case may be to redress wrongdoing.
This is where environmental concerns such as consultants and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have a role to play. Consultants are by and large impartial and act in an impartial fashion with a combination of scientific rigour and technology applications to affect balanced, risk based outcomes. Whilst some could and do argue that a consultant employed by any one of a number of vested interest parties is biased, there is a self-limiting imperative to this line of reasoning: environmental practitioners rely on reputation as trusted advisors with proponent and regulator alike to maintain a successful and sustainable business. The unscrupulous, partial or biased practitioner quickly runs out of trust credits on one or more sides of difficult decision making and therefore limiting poor advice. This is why successful environmental consultancies like us are adamant on immutable topics of ethics, social conscience and trust; indeed are key elements of corporate identity and strategy.
This does not mean all consultants will agree absolutely on every issue, but there is more than a fair chance that differences are in details of interpretation and not gross negligence or misconduct.
SLR was recently hired to determine the water needs for a new 500 Mt gold mine in northern Ontario Canada. SLR performed the overall mine water balance analyses to determine the amount of water that could be recycled form the tailings storage facility and how much would need to be drawn from local lakes. In order to ensure withdrawal from the local lakes would not result in any environmental damage, SLR established a regional hydrologic and lake water balance model that simulated the effect of the withdrawals on half-a-dozen lake levels during average, wet and dry periods as well as projecting levels 50 years in the future under climate change conditions. This model was then used to establish a lake withdrawal system and withdrawal schedules that prevented any significant changes to lake water levels and which would not cause any environmental harm.