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Mining’s water management challenges can benefit communities – MWH

Mining may be the water user most able to use poorer quality water in its processes, which could be a bargaining tool to secure mining project permits.

As the mining industry pays increasing attention to sustainability reporting, the industry will be called on to make greater investment in both water and wastewater technology, says a paper authored by MWH Global Wastewater Practice Leader, Art Umble.

In a paper presented this week at the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Geology by MWH Global Vice President Natural Resources, Andrew Watson, Umble suggests that “opportunities abound for mine water reuse” which can also help with community water needs.

Currently two thirds of the “Big Six” mines are in countries with water risk, Watson told mining professionals attending the SME meeting.

The sector faces an even tougher challenge as lower grades are extracted as mines reach the latter production stages and new mining projects are developed in more challenging territories with increasingly inhospitable conditions. More complex treatment processes are also necessitated.

The result can be more severe impacts on ecosystems and water resources, Umble observed.

Managing these challenges requires pollution prevention at the source, reuse and recycling of water, treatment of effluents when contamination cannot be avoid, and finally discharge of effluents only as a last resort.

Through reuse and recycling mining is moving toward “zero water discharge” through reuse and recycling, Umble and Watson observed. However, the technology approaches to achieve these results depend on objectives, mine location and water needs.

In the MWH Global paper, Umble suggests that, in the future, mine wastewater could be reused for irrigation, steel manufacturing, hydraulic fracturing, or cooling and power generation.

Current examples of using mining technology to benefit community water supplies include Anglo American Thermal Coal’s use of water reclamation to produce treated water for both mining and municipal use, meeting 12% of the municipality’s water demand.

The Erongo Desalination Plant operated by Areva’s Trekkopje Uranium Mine in Swakopmund, Namibia, produces water that is used by both the mine (70%) and meets half of the water needs of the Erongo Region.

Australia’s Olympic Dam Mine has reduced water consumption from the Great Artesian Basin aquifer through water efficiency improvements. The mine’s water recovery and recycling projects are providing treated water that can be substituted for poor-quality local groundwater.

In Arizona, Resolution Copper has worked with the New Magma Irrigation and Drainage District to provide treated mine water to blend with and supplement the district’s water supply to 5,000 acres of farmland located east of Phoenix. It was essential the treatment system could reliably meet irrigation water quality goals and produce a non-scaling effluent to maintain pipeline water flow capacity.

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