Since most mining operations in arid regions are zero-discharge facilities that don’t produce grey water, chances are slim today’s mining operators can share water with municipalities in times of drought.
In February, the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME) held its second international symposium on water in mineral processing.
Those mining professionals and consultants in attendance viewed the event as pivotal in focusing miners’ attention on what they believed would emerged as mining’s hottest issue—water management strategies and their critical role in securing mining’s social license in the permitting and operation of mining projects and expansions.
Much was made by those presenting papers to SME that “opportunities abound for mine water reuse,” which can help with community water needs. In the future, mine wastewater could be reused for irrigation, steel manufacturing, hydraulic fracturing, or cooling and power generation, consultants advised.
For instance, some papers cited Resolution Copper’s work with the New Magma Irrigation and Drainage District to provide treated mine water to blend with and supplement the district’s water supply to 5,000 acres near Phoenix. However, Resolution Copper is in the project stage and is being developed in Arizona by one of the world’s biggest mining companies with the deep pockets to help fund such a venture, Rio Tinto.
Surely in times of drought, such as now exists in much of Far West, mines located in arid locations like Nevada could help supplement agricultural or municipal water needs, thus helping to foster trust between mining operators and local communities?
Unfortunately, pleasant, life-affirming stakeholder consultation water stewardship strategies do not necessarily coexist with the reality of infrastructure costs to both mining projects and municipalities, complex water rights laws, and the lack of a lengthy history of legal precedents.
Countries have gone to war over the politics of water and who controls it. While we live in the world’s most technically sophisticated society, local communities are sponsoring Native American rain dances to pray for rain.
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