Barrick’s Pascua-Lama project recently began publishing real-time water monitoring data from one of the project’s water monitoring stations in Chile’s Estrecho River, downstream from the project. This marks the first time that the company has used real-time data reporting to share monitoring results with local communities and any person interested in finding out the water quality; previously the information was available only to government and regulatory stakeholders.
“We often say that transparency is the currency of trust, and this initiative is all about promoting transparency with our communities, so that they can verify for themselves that the water is maintaining its natural characteristics in keeping with the baseline,” says Rene Muga, Executive Director of Barrick Chile.
The initiative represents just one small step in a wider effort underway at the company to provide more data directly to communities and regulators, in real time.
Located in the high Andes Mountains, the monitoring station is the final monitoring point downstream from the project and tracks the river’s acidity or alkalinity (known as pH), its salinity and dissolved metals content (known as electro-conductivity), and its flow rate. The station continuously collects water data and sends it every 15 minutes to a website, set up by the Pascua-Lama team, where that data is then published. The pH, electro-conductivity and flow rate of the Estrecho River are displayed in comprehensive graphs. But having access to the data is one matter; knowing how to make sense of it is another.
“We are working with the local community to teach them how to understand the graphs, what baseline measurements are and how these are established,” says Muga. “Our Community Relations teams have met with local community stakeholders every day to clarify concerns or alleviate doubts that they may have about the data.”
The company is organizing visits to the monitoring station to support education efforts, and so far, the initiative has been well received by community members and government authorities.
This type of monitoring complements rigorous water sampling conducted around Pascua-Lama by independent third-party laboratories on the company’s behalf. These laboratories take weekly and monthly samples that check water quality for various metal content parameters such as aluminum, arsenic and iron, as part of the project’s permit requirements. These results are reported regularly to Chile’s water and environmental regulators.