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Water sustainability in action

5 October 2017

The commitment of ICMM’s member companies to sustainable water stewardship has seen numerous projects around the globe adopting a holistic, catchment-based approach to managing resources. Here are just a few of the success stories.

Cerro Verde, Peru

Freeport-McMoRan’s Cerro Verde mine in Peru highlights what can be achieved when industry, local government and civil society work together to improve water access.

The copper mine is located in an arid region where population growth, industrialisation, and sewage contamination of the river Chili were increasing pressures on an already limited water supply. Recognising this, Freeport-McMoRan worked with local stakeholders to co-finance a water treatment plant that takes contaminated water from the local river and makes it drinkable.

Approximately 99 per cent of all wastewater is now treated, up from just 10% in 2013 – creating a safer, healthier environment, providing water to over 300,000 people and allowing Freeport-McMoRan to access sufficient water to expand the mine’s processing capacity. A cleaner river has also enabled the regeneration of depleted fish stocks, improving the economic prospects of local fishermen.

Elk Valley, Canada

Teck operates five steelmaking coal mines in British Columbia’s Elk Valley, employing over 4,000 people.

The mining process generates large quantities of leftover rock, with water from precipitation or run-off flowing through these rock piles, carrying substances such selenium and nitrate into the local watershed. If present in high enough concentrations, these substances can adversely affect human and aquatic health, including fish stocks.

To reduce this risk, in 2014 Teck worked alongside British Columbia’s Ministry of Environment to implement its Elk Valley Water Quality Plan, aimed at monitoring and managing water quality, including the construction of multiple water treatment facilities and water diversions at its operations.

eMalahlei, South Africa

Another strong example of public/private partnership from ICMM’s member base is the co-financing by Anglo American Thermal Coal and South32 of a water reclamation plant in the municipality of eMalahleni, South Africa. The plant supports the daily treatment of more than 30 million litres of acid rock drainage from mining operations, de-salinating it and providing clean water to the eMalahleni reservoirs.

The water catchment initiative now supplies clean drinking water to more than 80,000 people in the local area (accounting for as much as 12% of eMalahleni’s potable water), strengthening the municipality’s capacity to provide services for its residents, as well as processing water to the companies’ operations.

Wahnapitae, Canada

Glencore has successfully worked with indigenous communities to improve water quality in the vicinity of Sudbury INO, its integrated nickel mining and processing site in Canada.

In a collaboration between indigenous communities and industry, Glencore has worked with the Wahnapitae First Nation community and an environmental consulting group to conduct water quality monitoring within the Massey Creek watershed, which surrounds the asset’s operations.

Beginning in 2014, the project comprised an aquatic assessment to gauge the size and diversity of the local fish population, monitor and assess the health of the watershed, plus measure Glencore’s environmental performance within the catchment. Another key commitment of the initiative was establishing a framework through which partners could work together towards a continuing mutually beneficial relationship, taking in environmental stewardship, community development, education and training.

Escondida mine, Chile

BHP’s Minera Escondida copper mine (the world’s largest) is located in the Atacama Desert, Chile – one of the driest places on earth, with an average annual rainfall of just 15mm. In response to the lack of easy access to a local water supply, the multi-agency Escondida Water Supply (EWS) project team successfully constructed a new seawater de-salination plant at the port of Caleta Coloso, along with the infrastructure (including pipelines, high-pressure pumping stations and electrical substations) to transport 2,500 litres of water per second across 114 miles of desert.

Athabasca, Canada

In the late 1990s, AREVA and Cameco, two uranium mining companies active in Canada’s northern Saskatchewan province, took a leap of faith by committing to long-term independent environmental monitoring.

The companies met with the leaders of local communities to sign a landmark partnership agreement aimed at preventing pollution of the community’s precious waterways. Together, they created the Athabasca Working Group (AWG) Community Environmental Monitoring Program, undertaking regular sample collection and analysis to monitor pollution levels.

The monitoring – undertaken by both independent environmental agency scientists and local citizen monitors – has proven that best-in-class pollution controls now in place at the mines are effective. As well as creating positive environmental and community outcomes, the newly-forged bond of trust has also resulted in tangible business benefits, with the Athabasca Basin communities being generally supportive of new developments and licensing applications.