Toggle Main Menu Toggle Search

Open Access padlockePrints

The water footprint of mining operations in space and time - a new paradigm for sustainability assessments?

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Paul Younger


Full text for this publication is not currently held within this repository. Alternative links are provided below where available.


As the mining sector increasingly embraces the sustainability agenda, and implements thorough environmental reporting in support of its case for a continued 'social licence to operate', there is a need for ever-clearer metrics for key areas of impact. It is clear that natural waters are both the predominant pathway and main recipient of the environmental impacts of mining. A new approach to summarising the impacts of mining operations on water quantity and quality is proposed, adapted from an existing generic framework. which is increasingly used to quantify the 'water footprints' of cities and nations. This includes both direct water use and 'virtual water' use, implicit in goods and services used by the mine. In contrast to the existing formulation of 'water footprint', it is here argued that it makes hydrological sense to express the water footprints of mines in areal terms, as equivalent catchment areas. It is also important in the mining sector to capture systematic changes in the scale of impact, which can be anticipated and predictively quantified over the full life cycle. This includes the essentially infinite post-closure phase, during which remanent water consumption' occurs, either through physical water loss (eg by evaporation from pit lakes) or by ongoing contamination of sizeable flows of natural waters. Methods for assessing the water footprints of mines are now available, and the time is increasingly ripe for them to be applied in earnest in environmental reponing. An example application to a mine in a humid subtropical area of South America is presented. In that case, the mine site itself extended over 106 ha. whereas the maximum water footprint exceeded this by a factor of 27. Although the water footprint can be expected to decline by a factor of ten immediately after closure, sustained evaporation from pit lakes and tailings darns with water covers will gradually increase the remanent water consumption rate, such that the final post-closure water footprint remains about 25 per cent of that encountered during the peak of mining.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Younger PL

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: Proceedings of Water in Mining 2006: 2nd AusIMM Water in Mining Conference

Year of Conference: 2006

Pages: 13-21

ISSN: 9781920806576

Publisher: Australasian Institute of Mining & Metallurgy

Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

Series Title: Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy Publication Series