Mining Mirror May 2017 - Page 3

Comment Water should be top of mind Get in touch Leon Louw - Editor @LeonLouw3 W ater is crucial for the mining industry. Mines use water in mineral processing and in washing plants, and to transport waste material to slurry dams. In the pit, water is used mainly for dust suppression and rehabilitation. Potable water is also required for drinking purposes in mine offices, change rooms, and residential facilities. But southern Africa does not have an abundance of water and it will become even scarcer in the future as weather and rainfall patterns change. Water availability and its management have become hot topics in the mining industry. Undeniably, the mining sector does have a negative impact on water resources and the sustainability of water supply. Even though several other industries exceed mining companies’ water volumes each year, mines continue to carry the stigma of being grand-scale users and polluters. Yet, in contrast to popular opinion, the mining sector consumes considerably less water than other industries, such as agriculture, which is the largest consumer of water in many countries. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), agriculture accounts for 69% of the world’s water consumption, while industry (which includes mining) accounts for only 19%. Nonetheless, finding ways to reduce water usage has become increasingly important for the mining industry, and its proactivity in dealing with water issues is commendable. “With the recent drought and increased water shortage, mining industries across southern Africa have stepped up and intensified efforts for water conservation to ensure sustainable use,” said André van Coller, manager of environmental geochemistry at Digby Wells, earlier this year. “In recent years, the sustainable use of water by mines has evolved. New processing methods and water management tools have decreased mines’ usage of the amount of fresh water, such as rainwater, groundwater, rivers, and dams, and the mitigation of any potential impacts have improved,” he said. But a mining company’s responsibility does not stop at reducing its water usage. Many mines are located in sensitive areas where the pollution of water sources can lead to health problems for people living downstream from the operation. Mines have a huge impact on the water sources, whether groundwater or surface water. It is important to understand the full extent of the impact on all aspects of the hydrological cycle in an area. A very informative book, the South African Mine Water Atlas, has recently been launched by the Water Research Commission. Mine managers and environmental officers will find it extremely useful in guiding their water- and environmental management strategies. The first chapters of the Atlas introduce mining-impacted water and its geological, hydrological, and legal context, followed by the geographical foundations of water quantity, quality, and distribution across South Africa. The Atlas uses various measures to illustrate South Africa’s hydrological characteristics by charting and mapping water resources at the regional scale. Topics include water resources, water distribution, and the physical setting within which water is found. These features are overlaid with a map of mining and mineral-refining activities to understand the locations at which surface- and groundwater as well as mining collide. The Atlas includes challenges and opportunities facing South Africa as it strives to improve the quantity, quality, protection, and use of its water resources. Each of the mining-affected areas are presented by discussing the challenges, the situation, the constraints, and the opportunities. Everybody in South Africa should proactively manage their use of water, but the mining industry in particular should be aware of the impact it has on this scarce resource. Consequently, the Atlas should feature on all managers’ bookshelves as an important reference. b MAY 2017 MINING MIRROR [1]