While Barrick is an industry leader in water management, the company also invests significant sums to help communities near its operations obtain better access to water.
The company’s most ambitious water-related community-development initiative may be unfolding in Chile’s Huasco Valley. The semi-arid valley is located in Chile’s Atacama Region near Barrick’s Pascua-Lama project. In 2005, Barrick signed an agreement with the Huasco Valley Water Users Cooperative to create an environmental compensation fund that will provide $3 million annually over 20 years to build new water infrastructure in cooperation with local government and farmers in the valley. The Water Users Cooperative represents about 2,000 farmers who hold title to water rights in the valley.
To date, the fund has invested $15 million in various infrastructure projects. One important infrastructure upgrade that these funds have helped facilitate is the paving of canals that transport water to farms throughout the Huasco Valley, says Rodrigo Rivas, Barrick’s Director of Corporate Affairs in Chile. So far, 150 kilometers of canals have been paved, ensuring that the bulk of water transported through the river system will be retained. Prior to being paved, the poor condition of the canals resulted in the loss of about 40 percent of the water that they carried.
“The Environmental Compensation Fund is a gift from heaven,” says Efraín Alday, President of the Oversight Committee in charge of managing the fund. “It has benefited farmers by improving the irrigation infrastructure in our valley.”
In addition to paving canals, the fund is also investing in a four-megawatt hydroelectric plant in the Huasco River, a reservoir on the El Carmen River and the repair of two large lakes at the headwaters of the El Transito River. “Once we build the reservoir and repair the lakes, farmers living near the Pascua-Lama project will have access to water 365 days of the year,” Rivas says.