In many water-scarce countries, heavy water users like the mining industry are facing increasing scrutiny from authorities, investors, and local communities. When there is too little water and many competing needs, managing water sustainably is an urgent priority and a shared responsibility.
South Africa is a prime example of a water-stressed country fighting to keep water crises at bay. The nation faces the potential drying impacts of climate change coupled with a growing population putting increasing demand on water resources, while also carrying a historical legacy of inequitable water allocations and degraded water sources. Allocating water fairly to all users in this situation is a major challenge. For South African mines, which are heavily dependent on water, achieving any further water allocation now requires evidence of responsible, optimised water management.
A new tool for responsible, efficient, compliant water use
To support mining companies with water management and conservation, WSP worked with the Minerals Council South Africa to develop a user-friendly water balance self-assessment tool. The ‘Water Conservation and Water Demand Management Self-Assessment Reporting Tool’ (WSART) is the first of its kind to be developed by a mining association and incorporates existing industry best practices. It was developed to support and simplify the implementation by the South African mining industry of the national Water Conservation/Water Demand Management (WC/WDM) guidelines (which WSP also helped to develop) but can be applied to any mining operation worldwide.
The tool is a spreadsheet interface into which the user enters a range of operational and water data, including the characteristics of the mining operation, its water supply from a variety of sources, water consumption across all activities, and the volume and range of its discharges. This information can be as simple or as detailed as available for the mine. The tool applies a structured methodology to develop a consistent and verifiable water balance for the mine site and calculates water use efficiency baselines and targets for the mine against a set of water use efficiency indicators.
Based on these results, the mine can explore ways to reduce, reuse and recycle water to achieve its own targets over a five-year period, in line with its own company standards and water management goals, and can predict future performance based on the targeted improvements. The tool enables the mine’s goals and targets to be compared to industry benchmarks. The resulting site-specific five-year WC/WDM plan includes timelines and budgets for implementing identified remedial activities and initiatives for greater efficiency, reuse or recycling, which provides a clear basis for internal tracking, reporting and comparison over time.
The targets in the WC/WDM plan can be updated annually in line with changes in goals or the updated water balance. With updates being very straightforward to implement, ongoing water management is made easy. The tool also addresses the quality of the data entered based on whether the data was measured, modelled, calculated or estimated, as well as on the percentage of data entered. Improvement in water data accuracy can be indicated visually.
The quality of the water used at a mine is also categorised and can be shown as a trend for the five-year WC/WDM plan. The water’s fitness for use is considered when allocating water to various purposes. This enables targeted water treatment and reuse initiatives and reduces the costs of unnecessary treatment steps.
Benchmarking water stewardship
Although some mining companies may already use models and tools, they have developed themselves according to their unique circumstances, industry-wide standardisation has been lacking. This tool can complement a mining company’s in-house model and facilitate greater consistency of water-related calculations and reporting not only for an individual mining company but across the industry, improving the opportunities for industry-wide benchmarking.
For the mining industry, continual improvement as a responsible user and manager of water begins with understanding the relationship between a mine’s water supply, consumption, recycling, and discharge. Based on this understanding, opportunities can be identified to optimise water use efficiency. Regardless of scale of mine, or its location, embracing a transparent, consistent, and comprehensive approach to water management such as the WSART is good for the bottom line. It’s also a positive step towards water stewardship, water equity and sustainability, for the good of communities and the environment both now and into the future.
About the author
Nirvishee Juggath is a Senior Water Resources Engineer with a Chemical Engineering background in oil and gas. She has over 16 years of process, water, and environmental engineering experience. Her current responsibilities include implementation of water conservation and water demand management plans as well as developing water balance models. The models are key to assessing the water management at a client’s site and providing water management solutions in terms of water management strategies for operational water management and post-closure water management.