The water-related risks affecting mining and minerals processing operations are complex and diverse. However, from the perspective of mining companies, the emphasis tends to be on the physical risks associated with water scarcity or flooding. Mining and minerals processing operations are reliant on water as a production input – it serves as the primary medium for mineral separation and processing, for transporting ore and waste, and is needed for tasks such as dust suppression and equipment washing. Production is therefore compromised under conditions of water scarcity. Flooding risks can be equally concerning for miners; for example, in regions of high precipitation, water can become a nuisance, creating hydrogeological challenges and high pumping expenditure.
A broader understanding of water risks is needed, one which recognizes the ways in which the mining sector’s use of water can also pose impacts on other actors. This includes:
- Communities and First Nations Rights-Holders – often concerned about how a mining project’s interactions with water may pose long-term environmental and /or social impacts.
- Investors – may be concerned about the reputational damage associated with a company’s mismanagement of water, or the effects of unanticipated climatic changes (e.g. scarcity or flooding) can compromise investment portfolios.
- Governments – play an important role in ensuring that the ‘outbound risks’ which mining poses on water systems are adequately managed by mining companies within a given jurisdiction. Have power to enact legislation and enforcement to prevent these effects.
The figure below illustrates examples of different perspectives on water risks from company vs. community perspectives. Inbound risks refer to the ways in which water poses risks to mining production, while outbound risks refer to the ways in which mining’s use of water poses impacts to communities and the environment. From a company perspective, a failure to address the outbound risks of concern to local communities may contribute to inbound risks in the form of community conflicts or protests, with significant financial ramifications.
Further details can be found in the open-access (i.e. freely available) paper entitled: Towards a broadened view of water security in mining regions, published by Nadja Kunz in The Journal of Water Security, December 2020.