Access to water is a growing global humanitarian and environmental challenge. In the latest World Economic Forum Global Risks Report, water crises ranked fifth in terms of global impact. Competing demands for water will result in food crises, large-scale involuntary migration and environmental degradation.
According to the World Bank, 70 per cent of fresh water worldwide is used for agriculture and this sector will need to grow by 50 per cent to feed the expected 10 billion people on earth by 2050.
“The reality is that we all have to learn to live in a resource-constrained world,” said Resa Furey, market analyst at global design and engineering firm Stantec. “Water is life and a finite resource, so limited supplies of fresh water are putting the squeeze on everyone – mining, agriculture and society.”
A reliable water supply is critical to any mining operation. As ore reserves decline, mines are pushed to more remote locations, often in water-stressed countries and regions. A 2014 Moody’s Investor Service report showed that about 70 per cent of mines operated by the “Big Six” – BHP, Rio Tinto, Anglo American, Vale, Xstrata and Glencore – are located in countries where water stress is considered a major risk. Without a robust water management strategy, mining companies are potentially putting their operations, as well as the environment, at risk.
“The most straightforward risk is to lose the social licence to mine, which translates into delays, conflict and bad feelings that do not easily dissipate,” said Jim Finley, a principal geochemist at Stantec who has worked for decades on mine water management projects. “An important component of a mine’s overall risk management program is addressing water supply and use while limiting the impact on existing water users.”
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