Water Stress Is Factor in Global Mining Slump: Floods, dam failures, public opposition batter big hard rock mines
NEW YORK – In a disclosure that came as no surprise in Peru, a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing by Newmont Mining Corporation reported last February that the big Colorado-based mineral developer was indefinitely suspending work on its mammoth Conga gold mine in the Andes mountains near Cajamarca.
Two months later the Goldman Environmental Foundation announced that one of the six winners of its annual Goldman Prize for environmental activism, among the world’s most prestigious public service awards, was Máxima Acuña, an Andes farmer and mine opposition leader.
The two events are closely tied together. In 2004, Newmont proposed to build the Conga mine not far from its existing Yanacocha copper and gold mine south of Cajamarca, which is the largest open pit gold mine in Latin America.
Anticipating the sharp decline in Yanacocha’s mineral production, Newmont and its Peruvian mining partner, Minas Buenaventura, proposed to replace four natural lakes with a manmade reservoir at the Conga mine in order to reach what both companies said were rich mineral deposits.
The idea enraged Andes farmers who viewed the lakes and the water they held as vital and sacred. Máxima Acuña and her husband got involved because they own land on the Conga mine site that the developers sought to illegally seize with an eviction notice. She became a leader of the protest movement that spent more than a decade resisting Conga and eventually forced its indefinite closure.
The struggle between one of the world’s largest mining companies and a subsistence farmer defending her land and community’s water supply illustrates how strains over fresh water have become signal factors in the treacherous ecological, social, and economic geography that mine developers around the world must now traverse.
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