Water management performance


Our operational activities use water for various activities:

Mining operations

The most water intensive activity in our mining operations is the removal of water from mines (dewatering) for the safe access of our deposits. This may include both active dewatering and passive seepage collection, as well as diverting surface water bodies, under environmental approvals.

Metal concentrators

Our mineral concentrators use water in the processing of ore to facilitate separating minerals from waste material to produce higher-grade ore concentrates.

Leaching and hydrometallurgical processing

Our leaching and hydrometallurgical processing use water during the further recovery of metals from metal-bearing materials.

Coal operations

Our coal operations use water during the beneficiation of their products to meet customers’ product specifications.

Oil exploration and production

Our oil exploration and production activities use water in processing and reservoir management processes.

Emission abatement and dust mitigation

We use wet air cleaning techniques, like scrubbers or electrostatic precipitators, to remove particles and gaseous substances (eg sulphur dioxide). Throughout our operational processes, we also use sprinklers and water carts to reduce dust levels that may result from mining, transport and stockpiling activities.

Water treatment

We collect and treat water for potable water, as well as for process water usage. We treat water prior to discharge in compliance with regulatory approvals, permits and licenses.

Cooling activities

Many of our activities use water for cooling purposes, predominately for non-contact cooling activities whereby no deterioration of the water quality takes place.

Local water infrastructure

A number of our operations support local governments by supplying water to surrounding communities for a variety of uses including drinking water and agriculture.

Shipping activities

We ship our products over maritime and inland waterways and abide by environmental protection guidance, such as the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes (IMSBC) Code and the Convention for Prevention of Marine Pollution (MARPOL), to protect these water systems.

The majority of our water is sourced from surface water, rainwater/precipitation, and dewatering our mines. Additional water sources include brackish or seawater, third-party supply and residual water retained as moisture in mined ores. The majority of third-party water is of lower quality, such as treated wastewater, and primarily used for processing. Less than 2% of our total water input is potable water and is mainly used for human consumption.

All operations discharge and monitor wastewater in accordance with jurisdictional and/or permit requirements. Some water discharges are directed to permitted surface water points, which are routinely monitored. Minor amounts of wastewater are also supplied to third parties, or are retained as moisture in residual waste rock or concentrate products (15%). Marginal quantities of water are discharged to groundwater. Depending on location, water can also be lost via evaporation.

Further water-related information and data can be found in our Sustainability Report 2020 and its ESG Data Book and details of our 2020 water withdrawal, discharge and use by country and river basin can be found here.

Our water indicators, metrics, and definitions currently align with the International Council of Mining and Metals (ICMM)  ‘A Practical Guide to Consistent Water Reporting’. 

A third-party provider externally assures (limited assurance) “Total Water Withdrawal” and “Total Water Discharge” metrics in accordance with the International Standard on Assurance Engagements (ISAE) 3000.


We monitor, record and analyse our water-related data, including incidents, grievances and fines, to identify and manage potential impacts. 

In alignment with Glencore’s Risk Management Framework, we classify the severity of all sustainability-related incidents against a five-point scale from negligible, to minor, moderate, major and catastrophic. We aim to avoid any major or catastrophic incidents. Further information on our water-related impacts is in our Sustainability Report 2020.

Our water-related risks are assessed based on two approaches: 

Risk assessment of high risk sites / medium risk sites with identified reputational issues

By applying WRI’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas’ baseline water stress levels and considering freshwater withdrawal quantities, we identify operations with potential high water-related risks. These operations additionally assess their water quality risk exposure, and if identified, these risks are combined to produce a final rating.

Annual risks survey

In addition to identifying high-risk sites, we also assess and monitor water-related risks through an annual internal survey of all our industrial operations. This process is designed to identify potential substantive water-related risks and impacts (e.g. physical, environmental and social) due to operational changes. We also establish appropriate preventive and mitigating controls for all risks, irrespective of their classification.

Financial impacts may arise from:

  • Increased operating costs
  • A negative reputational impact resulting in the loss of an operating licence
  • Regulatory restrictions placed on production processes, and/or
  • Materially-reduced or disrupted production

We apply Glencore’s Risk Management Framework, which contains defined thresholds to assess the combined impact of potential consequences and probability, in order to analyse and classify material business risks. 


The following summarizes our assessment of material water-related risks and opportunities:


Type of risk
Description of risk
Number (share) of sites that have identified risk as material
Measures taken
Severe weather events
Some of our sites, as well as parts of our supply chain, may be exposed to drought, flooding or other severe weather events.    
5 (4%)
We conduct ongoing risk assessments on potential severe weather events, including their increasing severity due to climate change. Our responses may include installing additional water management infrastructure, such as water transfer infrastructure (eg levees, dams, pipes and pumps, etc) to improve drought and flood resilience. As extreme weather can present risks to our host communities, we take a multi-stakeholder approach. 
Acid rock drainage (ARD) and/or metal leaching  
While ARD/metal leaching can occur naturally, mining activities can contribute to, or exacerbate, potential ARD/metal leaching impacts in water. 
8 (7%)
Geochemical testing of rocks and mineral residues is conducted to identify the potential for ARD/metal leaching and to inform optimal management actions. Responsible materials management reduces potential long-term impacts. When legacy or new ARD/metal leaching issues arise, impacted waters are captured and treated prior to discharge or reused in our operations. Management techniques include upgrading existing or constructing new water treatment plants, capping or removal of the tailings.
Changing regulations
Evolving regulatory requirements may lead to more stringent water regulations that impact water discharge or withdrawal specifications. This could result in increased water treatment or reuse requirements, or alternative water suppliers.
5 (4%)
We routinely engage with external stakeholders, including communities, governments, and regulators to track changing regulations. We develop effective management responses to new regulations, such as upgrading existing or constructing water treatment plants, reviewing existing suppliers, or identifying new water suppliers. All discharges are conducted in accordance with regulatory requirements.
Potential adverse impact on water availability (volume or quality)
Varying local conditions may result in changing water availability.
8 (7%)
Across our operations, we aim to minimise our water withdrawals, while maximising reusing and recycling water. We monitor water risks and develop water management plans, which identify opportunities to improve performance and minimise impacts. We undertake, where relevant, providing water to communities for agricultural or drinking purposes, rather than discharging it. Where possible, we upgrade existing or construct new water treatment plants. In areas of water baseline stress, we strive to use low quality alternative sources to reduce impacts on the overall catchment.


We have also identified and implemented various water-sharing and saving opportunities to conserve water, reduce operational water dependency, and mitigate potential environmental and local community impacts, as follows:


  • In Kazakhstan, our Kazzinc Polymetals Project supplements snow melt with a water efficient concentrator that primarily uses mine water and recycled tailings storage facility water.


  • Our Oaky Creek coal operation’s reverse-osmosis water treatment plant improves process water quality, which reduces freshwater withdrawals by about 1,200ml/a. As a result, Oaky Creek transferred some of its original freshwater allocation to the local township of Capella, showing how operational improvements can deliver benefits to neighbouring communities.
  • Our Australian coal operations’ rehabilitation and closure works are significantly reducing their water footprint. These operations have annual land rehabilitation targets, and successfully rehabilitated land facilitates drainage and improved water quality in local waterways. 

Latin America:

  • In Chile, our Lomas Bayas plant replaced its sprinklers with drip irrigation, minimising its overall evaporation rate and improving the distribution of the used leach solution. Its evaporation reduction efforts, like installing floating covers at its ponds and the replacement of trenches with pipes, have resulted in reduced evaporation losses of about 5.8 million m3 per year.

North America:

  • Long-term water balance models are developed to improve water management at our North American closed sites. The models are used to understand site water inventories, design drainage structures, including water diversion ditches to convey runoff and precipitation away from mining-related facilities (e.g. tailings, waste rock). The models are reviewed and updated periodically to assess potential improvements for water management.

South Africa:

  • Bioremediation water treatment is also a key opportunity that is being developed.
  • Our South African coal operations have developed integrated water and salt balances, leading to asset-specific water conservation and demand management strategies that support meeting water-use efficiency targets. Water Conservation and Demand Management Plan Toolkits track of water-related targets.

Further initiatives are presented in our case studies.


In 2020, we established an external group-level water target, which complements existing internal site-level goals and water targets:

All managed operations located in water-stressed regions to finalise the assessment of their material water-related risks, set local targets, and implement actions to reduce impacts and improve performance by the end of 2023

Aligned with our commitment to ICMM and international best practice, we encourage a catchment context-based approach.  Examples of site-level targets are as follows: 

Description of target
Current status
In Australia, our Ernest Henry Mine holds contracts for water supply from Lake Julius. During 2015-2018, it reduced its water withdrawal by 38% (1,250ML). 
The 2015 – 2018 target was been achieved. The site is now targeting a further reduction of 1,000ML/year (50%) until the end of the contract in 2025.
In Chile, our Altonorte smelter uses over 75% of reused low quality water (water quality category 3) supplied from the wastewater treatment plant in Antofagasta. Altonorte is also a zero discharge plant. They target improving the water balance and use efficiency. Capital projects concentrate on water recycling and usage reduction.
It is developing Thickened Tailings Disposal (TTD) and slag pot cooling projects. The TTD project initially targeted a 2.3% reduction in freshwater per tonne smelted by the end of 2019, against a 2016 baseline. The slag-pot cooling project targets a 27.1% reduction by the end of 2022, against a 2016 baseline.
Altonorte began to implement the TTD project during 2019. However, Covid-19 delayed its start to January 2021. Its water recovery of approximately 6.0 l/s represents a reduction of 4% of freshwater used to melt a tonne of concentrate, against a 2016 baseline.
Altonorte continues the test phase of the slag-cooling project, which is already showing positive results. The project will complete by December 2022.
In Peru, Yauliyacu is targeting a 15% reduction per year of freshwater used at the mine’s accommodation and in the concentrator plant by the end of 2021, against a 2018 baseline.
In 2020, Yauliyacu successfully achieved a fresh water reduction of 18%, against a 2018 baseline, mainly due to the improvement of the main supply system, the improvement of piping infrastructure, and the introduction of recycled water use in the concentrator plant process.
In South Africa, our Ferroalloys operations update their water and salt balances annually. The updated balances enable each site to develop, implement and monitor site-specific water conservation and demand management plans.   
The updated balances result in various initiatives, including utilising more water-efficient technologies and increasing the recycling of water.
In the UK, Britannia Refined Metals (BRM) targeted a 5% reduction in freshwater consumption intensity (per tonne of metal produced) by the end of 2020, against a 2015 baseline.
At the end of 2020, BRM had successfully achieved a total reduction in freshwater consumption intensity of 8%, exceeding their target, achieved by installing telemetric water meters, which automatically fed back data to a central system. This allowed both real time data and tracking of historic data for individual areas and processes of the asset.  
BRM also targeted a 5% year-on-year reduction of potable water consumed by 2023, against a 2020 baseline.  
BRM is progressing actions to achieve the reduction through using pre-treated surface water for use by the mechanical sweepers, low level dust suppression (sprinklers) and other water reduction options.
In Kazakhstan, our Malevevsky Mine has targeted a 26% reduction of effluent discharge per year by 2020, against a 2015 baseline.
While the site did not meet the initial target in 2020, due to delays in the implementation of the project, actions have been taken to support achievement of the annual reduction target going forward. 
In Kazakhstan, our Ridder Metallurgical complex is targeting a reduction of water withdrawal of 23% by 2022 against 2018 baseline.
Ridder Metallurgical is progressing actions to achieve this target, by constructing a water recycling system with purified recycled water for processing purposes, reducing the amount of water that needs to be withdrawn.  
In Canada, Horne smelter is targeting a 25% reduction in water withdrawals by the end of 2026, against a 2016 baseline.
Horne is preparing an operational water consumption balance and is undertaking enabling actions to support achievement of the target.  
In addition to this water quantity reduction target, Horne has implemented various measures, including development of an action plan, to improve the water quality discharges.
In Bolivia, our Sinchi Wayra operations are targeting a 20% increase in the amount of drinking water supplied to local communities by the end of 2023, against a 2018 baseline.
Sinchi Wayra is upgrading its water treatment plant to increase its production by 20% and support achievement of this target.


We are committed to transparency and undertake a variety of activities to communicate effectively with our stakeholders. When appropriate, our operations participate in collaborative community-based water projects and consider technology and innovation to improve their performance. Examples can be found in our case studies.


Case studies

Horne Smelter, Canada, Piloting ICMM’s catchment-based approach

During the year, we continued to pilot the ICMM’s catchment-based water management approach at our Horne Smelter in Canada.

Through this initiative, Rouyn-Noranda council and Horne Smelter are collaborating on an analysis of the local Dufault Lake’s watershed, to identify potential risks that could cause deterioration in water quality or available volumes.

The pilot study is progressing and we expect to complete the project in 2022. We expect the risk analysis to complete in 2022. In the interim, the Horne Smelter has already expanded its data collection programmes to identify and assess additional potential risks arising from inactive sites, as well as to support the development of appropriate corrective measures.

San Juan de Nieva, Spain, Commitment to reducing freshwater use

In 2004, our San Juan de Nieva zinc smelter in northern Spain began to identify ways to reduce the fresh water it used in its processes. In 2004, its water consumption was 4.7 million m3; by 2020 consumption had reduced by nearly 20% to 3.7 million m3, despite an 8% increase in the volume of zinc produced.

It achieved this reduction by identifying and analysing all of the processes that use and discharge water, as well as investigating alternative processes that do not need fresh water. San Juan saw annual improvements through the reuse of water for cooling and mechanical processes and cathode cleaning.

Reducing fresh water consumption also had a direct impact on wastewater discharges, leading to an almost 12% reduction from 2 million m3 in 2004 to 1.7 million m3 in 2020.

Wonderkop, South Africa, Utilising biological treatment processes to remove contaminants from water

Activities such as mining, other industrial operations, the release of partially treated sewage and agricultural practices can potentially result in contaminants such as nitrate, metals, hexavalent chromium and sulphate into South African water resources.

Glencore’s Wonderkop Smelter and iWater (Pty) Ltd have developed, implemented and optimised a sustainable, cost-effective technology to remediate site contaminants from water that uses biological treatment processes.

The biological system uses site-adapted microorganisms to perform chromium, nitrate and sulphate detoxifications. The system could also detoxify other contaminants, if they were present at the treatment site.

The plant is supported by remote monitoring and uses preventative engineering and artificial intelligence to adapt to various scenarios.

The approach removes contaminants and delivers water for recycling and re-using. The system can integrate with other technologies, such as different chemical reductants, absorbents, exchange or membrane technologies, including effective filtering.

A pilot phase successfully treated groundwater, removing 10-ppm Hexavalent chromium, 100-ppm nitrate and 200-ppm sulphate from groundwater resources within 10 hours. Wonderkop then up scaled the plant to treat larger volumes and adapted the system to treat higher hexavalent chromium concentrations (>200-ppm), if required. By adding modular units, Wonderkop can increase treatment volumes with low capital input costs.

The systems are adaptable for high and low contamination levels in surface and groundwater treatment.

Through managing and adapting the approach, it can remove contaminants, which in turn lower environmental risks and produce release quality water.

Antapaccay, Peru, Strengthening water infrastructure in Espinar

Antapaccay is located in Peru’s Espinar province, an area of natural mineralisation. In Espinar, the water is mineralised and naturally unfit for human consumption.

The increasing local population and expanding farming activities are creating stress on water availability. In addition, the limited infrastructure in the region is affecting the availability of water.

Antapaccay has put in place measures, such as monitoring and water treatment, to ensure its activities do not affect water quality or availability.

Antapaccay has also implemented a number of participatory monitoring programmes with local communities. All participatory and company monitoring activities demonstrate that Antapaccay operates in line with Peruvian law.

During 2020, the participatory monitoring programme was cancelled due to the restrictions imposed by Covid-19. However, Antapaccay continued to comply with the environmental quality standards for animals’ drinking water and vegetables irrigation imposed by the national authorities.

In collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Antapaccay funded prefeasibility studies for the Jatarana-San Martin Dam construction project, located in the upper part of the Cañipia river basin. The project will improve the infrastructure for distributing water to local communities.

The project includes the installation of an irrigation system for agricultural production and hydraulic infrastructure to collect dam rainwater in the upper part of the basin for transferring to the middle and lower basins. It is anticipated that ten communities’ agriculture and livestock activities will benefit from the dam.

Antapaccay is also promoting water projects in Espinar city, as well as in the Tintaya-Marquiri and Alto Huarca communities.

Pallas Green Project, Ireland, Determining the baseline

At our Pallas Green Project in County Limerick, Ireland, baseline water monitoring has been carried out since 2011 to establish a robust dataset to characterise local water conditions and to inform technical studies for the deposit. 

Maintaining water quality and quantity is a primary objective. The project is in the exploration phase and the monitoring network is focused on local groundwater and primary surface water components in the area to obtain long-term baseline data, such as water quality, flow, water levels and meteorological data. The data will enable an understanding of potential water-related risks and opportunities, to inform responsible project development and long-term water stewardship. 

Coal, Australia, Greater Ravensworth Water Sharing Network

In the Hunter Valley, Australia, we have implemented a water sharing strategy to minimise the risk of water scarcity and flooding through the development of the Greater Ravensworth Water Sharing Network (GRAWTS network). The GRAWTS network links our Liddell, Mount Owen, Integra and Ravensworth coal complexes to allow the transfer of excess water between these operations. We have completed a number of projects over the years, including duplicating and upgrading pipelines and installing differential flow meters. The GRAWTS network has enabled these operations to mitigate risks from periods of water scarcity and flooding and supported the feasibility of expansion projects. It has also reduced operating costs through sharing water between operations and reducing the amount of water withdrawn and discharged. 


The GRAWTS network has been extended to include a centralised tailings facility for the Liddell, Ravensworth and Mt Owen operations in a mined out pit at Mt Owen Complex.  This has avoided the need to construct additional tailings storages on the individual mines and maximises water recovery. Planning is being undertaken for the next phase of tailings deposition within the network as Liddell mine approaches closure in 2023.

Our GRAWTS network is substantially reducing the amount of water our operations withdraw from the Hunter River. 

How we manage water in Ulan, Australia

Overview of water withdrawal, discharges and use in 2020 by country and river basin