World Water Day 2018: managing our impacts and partnering with communities
| Date: 22/03/2018
A shared resource
Water is essential for our industrial activities and operations around the globe. From Chile and Colombia, to our sites in Australia and South Africa, water plays a central role in extraction, transport and processing of the commodities we produce and market.
It is crucial, therefore, that we seek to understand what effect on the local environment our water usage has. That way we can seek to minimise our water-related impacts and ensure that shared use of water with the local communities is not compromised by our activities.
This year’s World Water Day focuses specifically on the impact that droughts, floods, and pollution have on communities and habitats. With many of our assets located in areas where water usage is already under pressure and some operations located in areas of extremely high water stress, host communities have understandable concerns over water accessibility and security. It is therefore our commitment to work with those communities to understand their needs and the solutions we can provide together.
Communication and collaboration
We recognise that water management is a complex issue; to understand it fully requires a dialogue between the multiple stakeholders involved at each site – taking a collaborative approach.
Our Lomas Bayas copper operation in Chile, for example, is located in the Atacama Desert - the driest in the world. We have been engaging with the local community on water use for a number of years, and senior management regularly meet with local stakeholders including representatives of the communities and farmers living and operating in the river catchment area.
The three-phase roundtable approach we have implemented at Lomas Bayas facilitates this communication and collaboration. The first phase involves identifying the risks and opportunities relating to current activities. In the second phase, participants help to co-design solutions for those risks and opportunities. During the final phase, roundtable stakeholders consider whether risks have been successfully mitigated and evaluate the effectiveness of the initiatives implemented.
In South Africa and Australia we have invested in water transfer infrastructure like levees and dams, to help high-risk assets improve their resilience to droughts, understanding that extreme weather can have significant impact on our host communities. Again, this investment is made following consultation with our local stakeholders to ensure that we are meeting their needs.
As well as collaborating with communities, we have been able to harness the problem-solving potential of technology to combat water challenges. In Australia, our Ulan Coal operation has led the way in managing water as a shared natural resource; harnessing technical expertise to extract and treat mine water from underground operations. This is then used for agricultural purposes, as well as contributing significantly to the natural flow of the nearby Goulburn River.
Also in Australia, our Oaky Creek operation has constructed a reverse-osmosis water treatment plant to manage processed water, which has reduced the amount of fresh water it withdraws by 1.6bn litres per year. This has allowed some of the original allocation to be transferred to the local township of Capella, underlining how operational improvements deliver significant benefits to our neighbouring communities. Oaky Creek now discharges over 360 million litres of highly treated clean water each year.
In Australia and South Africa we have constructed a number of water treatment plants to manage mine process water, reduce the impact on fresh water and provide water for surrounding land owners and communities to share.
One of the most technically advanced collaborations currently running at site is found at Lomas Bayas. Working with a research centre associated with two local universities, Lomas Bayas was able to find ways of measuring the evaporation rate of water from leaching areas exposed to the external environment. The team also tested different methods of covering these pools of water, to minimise the evaporation. The testing led to the installation of covers - measures that remain operating to date. The closed recycling system present at Lomas Bayas produces no liquid waste, as it’s treated for reuse in different processes. One of the most significant is improving air quality for employees and local communities as the principal source of water for dust abatement on roads.
In collaboration with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) - our Murrin Murrin nickel-cobalt operation became the first site in the world to install CSIRO’s Drag Reduction Technology (DRT). While this technology has improved the pumping capacity of the hydrometallurgical plant’s feed ore slurry pipeline, it has also reduced the volume of water required for the process, meaning we can draw less from local sources.
Consequences of action
Robust water management at site has significant positive impact on operational efficiency, but it can also deliver meaningful, lasting benefits to local communities and ecosystems. Ulan Coal’s water management efforts have reinvigorated the local Goulburn National Park, allowing aquatic and riparian ecosystems to return to its river system.
In 2004, Jachucoposa Spring, the natural flow of the main freshwater source for the Collahuasi copper mine in Chile and the surrounding community, fell to around 20% of standard levels, driven by drought in local areas. Thanks to the programmes we implemented, the spring flow not only stopped decreasing, but has returned to normal levels, reinvigorating surrounding vegetation.
Water conservation is central to the responsible, custodial approach we have to our operations across the globe. Mining is by definition a finite business; we may be present with a community for a long time, but we are not there forever. We recognise, therefore, that managing water usage during our time at each asset is central to leaving a positive environmental and social impact in the region.