The Collahuasi copper mine in Chile is a joint venture between Glencore, Anglo American plc and Mitusi. While the operation is able to recover and reuse water from its processes, it still requires a significant amount of groundwater to produce more than 500,000 tonnes of copper annually. One of the main groundwater sources used by Collahuasi is the Jachucoposa Spring. The spring is located within a wetland area that is home to a pristine environment of aquatic birds and reptiles and sensitive vegetation that is an important food source for wild animals.
In 2004, the natural flow in the spring fell, partly as a result of a severe drought in the region, to around 20% of the original flow rate. Collahuasi implemented a programme to ensure that the spring flows did not continue decreasing and, more importantly, that they began to recover and increase towards their original levels.
Collahuasi implemented three measures to recover the spring flow rates and restore the spring's ecosystem. The first step was to relocate the 14 wells located within the Jachucoposa spring area to another area within the mining area where there was no hydraulic connectivity with Jachucoposa. The second measure consisted of complementing the existing flow to natural levels by pumping back water to the spring to ensure the original flow rate. The final measure was to irrigate the surrounding vegetation to re-establish original conditions.
The programme has been completely successfully, with natural flow rates returning to their original levels and the spring's surrounding vegetation has fully recovered. The local environmental agency annually inspects the area and reported in its 2011 inspection that the habitat had recovered. Collahuasi did not have to request additional water rights nor limit production while implementing these measures.
Collahuasi has also developed various research programmes that are related to water resources and wetlands, which include supporting a Wetland Research Centre in the nearby town of Pica.
The Jachucoposa Spring programme is now developing new objectives for the next two years.