Water is a critical component in mining and it’s also an essential but scarce resource in many parts of the world. I can tell you from first-hand experience that it is a very emotional issue.
People have their own views of water quality and meeting and managing expectations isn’t always straightforward. We must focus on sustainable technical solutions, not only to mitigate our potential impacts on the environment, but also to address the values associated with local water resources — be they spiritual, economic or recreational.
Equally as important, we have to communicate how we are managing water to the local community. At Barrick, proactively providing facts on mine water management, and establishing participatory community water monitoring programs, have proven to be two successful ways to prevent misinformation and build trusting relationships on water use with our host communities.
We follow stringent standards and permits with respect to water use and publicly disclose water consumption, extraction, discharge and recycle rates every year. We uphold the principle of conserving water resources in the design and operation of our mines to minimize the consumption of fresh water. For instance, in 2013, 72 percent of our water supply was recycled and about 30 percent of the water we drew from outside sources came from saline or brackish sources.
Before mining can begin, an operation must obtain a water license, or permit, that states how much water it’s allowed to use and discharge. Part of what I do as Manager of Hydrology and Air Sciences is provide support for Barrick’s permit applications, as well as environmental impact assessments, which, among other things, contain detailed information about a mine’s potential impacts on local water resources. I also provide guidance and support for monitoring surface and groundwater around our mines, and help design and implement mine-closure plans.
In addition, I review Barrick’s annual water conservation report, combing through water-use data from each Barrick site. The environmental team and I develop and update our standards and guidance on water management, monitoring, reporting and risk assessment, and prepare disclosure materials required by external benchmarks like the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and the Carbon Disclosure Project.
These are just some of the ways we work to ensure water resources are managed responsibly, in collaboration with our neighbors and other stakeholders.