Innovative Water Management Strategies Enhance Sustainability in Mining Sector

Groundwater management increasingly integrates multiple disciplines to ensure compliance and corporate sustainability, says SRK Consulting.

Water Management Strategies

Holistic Approach to Mine Water Management

Effective groundwater resource management within mining operations is becoming increasingly complex, necessitating the collaboration of various disciplines to meet both corporate sustainability goals and legislative requirements. According to Ismail Mohamed, principal hydrogeologist at SRK Consulting, a typical project team for mine water supply and dewatering would encompass hydrogeologists, hydrologists, engineers, and environmental specialists.

“The hydrogeologist guides the project in defining water sources, while the hydrologist assists with achieving a water balance for the operation,” Mohamed elaborates. “Civil and chemical engineers design reticulation systems, ensure water quality, and oversee treatment processes. An environmental specialist assesses the project’s impacts, ensuring sustainability.”

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The Central Role of Hydrogeologists

Hydrogeologists are crucial in formulating strategies for responsible groundwater use, according to Wadzanai Chimhanda, principal hydrogeologist at SRK Consulting. These professionals are pivotal in ensuring that mining operations adhere to sustainability and compliance standards in their water abstraction practices.

“We collaborate with consulting engineering teams to collect high-quality data essential for informed decision-making,” Chimhanda explains. This data collection often involves borehole drilling, supervised by a hydrogeological technician. Hydrogeologists may also participate in selecting reputable drilling contractors.

“By gathering comprehensive data, we can create models for clients that integrate their mining plans,” she adds. “This allows us to provide precise advice on water requirements for the mine and process plant, potential water sources, storage solutions, and discharge quantities after necessary treatment.”

Case Study: Successful Water Management in West Africa

Mohamed cites a successful project in West Africa, which began with characterizing the key aquifers at the mine during the pre-construction phase. “We developed a dewatering system based on site testing and numerical modeling, and generated a water balance,” he says. This enabled civil engineers to design and assist with implementation during construction.

Proactively developing a dewatering plan allowed the mine to initiate dewatering ahead of mining activities, preventing groundwater from disrupting operations. “The pumping system was engineered for efficiency, conserving power and optimizing equipment,” Mohamed notes. “The water was productively utilized, minimizing clean water abstraction from streams used by local communities.”

Compliance and Best Practices

While adherence to local regulations is a primary concern for mining clients, Chimhanda emphasizes the importance of recognizing industry best practices and international standards. “This approach mitigates risks associated with changing regulations and elevates sector-wide standards,” she states. Leading mining companies and industry associations drive commitments to frameworks like the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, where water management is a key component.

Operational and Community Benefits

The approach of integrating various disciplines into groundwater management not only meets operational needs but also supports community and environmental stewardship. Efficient dewatering systems reduce the impact on local water sources, ensuring that downstream communities continue to have access to clean water. By proactively managing water resources, mining operations can significantly reduce their environmental footprint and enhance their reputation as responsible corporate citizens.

A Sustainable Future for Mining

The integration of multiple disciplines in groundwater management is proving essential for the mining industry to achieve sustainability and regulatory compliance. Hydrogeologists, hydrologists, engineers, and environmental specialists must work together to develop efficient, sustainable water management systems. Successful case studies, like the one in West Africa, demonstrate the benefits of this collaborative approach, which not only supports mining operations but also contributes to the well-being of surrounding communities and the environment. As the industry continues to evolve, adherence to best practices and international standards will remain crucial in driving progress towards sustainable mining practices.

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