Copper and Lithium Giant Squeezing Water Rights for Miners – by Laura Millan Lombrana (Bloomberg News – February 21, 2019)

(Bloomberg) — In a belated response to falling fresh-water levels in desert areas, Chile is moving to protect a natural resource that has been depleted after decades of mining activity.

With complaints from local communities rising and the effects of climate change worsening, the world’s largest copper producer is planning to implement measures that will make it more difficult for miners to pump fresh water.

Chile’s water authority DGA will more than double the number of so-called prohibition areas across the country this year to at least 70 from 30, according to general director Oscar Cristi. No new licenses can be awarded within prohibition zones and any extension to existing permits will need to be approved by environmental authorities.

“There are mining areas that will fall within new prohibition areas,” Cristi said, declining to identify the areas to avoid possible speculation around water rights. “In some places, mining companies are allowed to pump more than is flowing into the basin, and that’s threatening the sustainability of the water systems.”

Chile’s Atacama desert in the country’s north, the driest place on Earth, hosts some of the planet’s largest copper and lithium mines. While it’s occasionally hit by heavy rains and floods, the region has become drier over the last few decades, according to the DGA.

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