Water usage in the mining industry
The mining industry contributes to utilising 3% of the total water withdrawn in South Africa and contributes to water quality deterioration. There are methods and management strategies to improve current mine water management. Regardless of the mining industry using a relatively small amount of water, a sufficient amount of water supply is crucial to sustaining the future of mining. Water is one of the main risks for mining companies, as water is used to separate heavy minerals and throughout the beneficiation process, imagine how critical it can get during a drought. Mines compete with other sectors in the South African economy for water, extending the issue that mines are more likely to receive requests from authorities to cut back on water usage before asking other sectors within the economy.
Causes of a drought
There are multiple causes for droughts and water shortages. Understanding these causes can aid in knowing where to improve conditions, how far the ripple effect of these causes can travel and how it could influence the mining industry.
Strong El Niño is one of the biggest causes in the lack of rain, the stronger the El Niño signal, the lower the water availability is in the region. The first signs are lower rain levels, followed by less water flowing past river beds. Less water in the rivers has a direct effect on water storage levels. The long term problem ends with the results of drought. Before the reduction in water reaches the state of being in a drought, the mining companies will be asked to reduce their water usage levels in an attempt to prevent the drought.
Climate change is a well-known factor in the changes of water availability, the raining seasons not lasting as long, our August winds coming in July all have a long term effect on the management of water.
Human influences and habitual behaviours influence the availability of water. The evidence of this behaviour is more prominent during droughts and makes existing drought measures worse. Thus, this makes sustainable water consumption one of the important factors to address when trying to avoid droughts or any form of water shortage.
Progress in recovery
Recovery from water shortage and droughts is possible, but to what extent does the recovery go and what is the waiting period for a full recovery? One cannot know for sure as we do not control the rain and managing the significant causes of water shortages and droughts depends on the effort put in, not only by the authorities but by the public as well.
Since the recent water shortages, there has been an extent of recovery, dam levels increase steadily, filling to 50.02% in three weeks. These results are partly due to the decrease in consumption levels. The overall consumption levels dropped by 8 million litres per day.
Example of a drought affected mine
An example of how water shortages influence the mining industry is the Richard’s Bay Mine in KwaZulu-Natal. They get their water supply from three primary sources, the Umfolozi River, Lake Nhlabane and Lake Nsezi. All three of these sources are fed by the Tugela-Goedertrouw Transfer system which is managed by the Mhlathuse Water Board. Since 2014 to recently, Richard’s Bay Mine has relied on water from Lake Nsezi as the other two sources are too low to use.
Why supporting the mining industry is beneficial
The mining industry contributes to the South African economy to such an incredible extent. Protecting our mines by ensuring that they receive the water required and managing its usage to avoid polluting other water sources is critical. Mines have changed the pastoral economy into an industrial one and have led to the establishment of Kimberley and Johannesburg among others towns. As well as, attracted large amounts of foreign capital. The industry created the cause to establish stock markets, universities and other institutes. It contributes to shaping the labour market by creating paid employment opportunities. Although, the mining industry is often one of the first to receive requests to minimise their water usage.
How Enaleni can support the mines
Enaleni recognises the additional problems that come with water shortages and droughts in the mining industry as well as why mines need protection and support when managing mines and facing issues that the companies have minimal to no control over such as rainfall. Our environmentalists and engineers have experience in working effectively with environmental authorities. We have achieved obtaining user licenses in less than average time and provide water user license applications and integrated water and waste management plans among other elements regarding the mining industry.
The correct support, management and quality checks in the mining industry can push mines beyond their current achievements. Managing the intake and outtake of water efficiently within mines along with highlighting the importance of mines in our economy can help the miners execute their goals for sufficiently and sustainably.