A Watershed Moment

A Watershed Moment

The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) on how collaborative approaches to water use can benefit all
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Director,
Environment and Climate Change, International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM)


Water is fundamental to life. It has tremendous social, ecological, and economic value.  It is also a critical resource for mining and metals operations, which typically require a secure, good quality supply of water for several decades.

Historically, the industry has thought about water use as an operational issue—largely managed from “inside the fence” with a focus on efficiency and control over effluent discharges to demonstrate good practice and minimize risk. But this approach to water management has had to shift, as the industry has learned first-hand that inadequate consideration of other water users can result in costly delays to projects, cancellation of licences, community conflicts, and reputational damage.

ICMM has developed a Water Stewardship Framework designed to promote a common understanding of key water challenges in the industry and how they can be addressed. Central to this framework is a “catchment-based” approach to water management—one that considers the needs, concerns and priorities of other water users including local communities across the entire river basin. The framework promotes transparency and accountability as well as inclusive engagement.

Effective water management demands collective action underpinned by mutual understanding of local water issues. That means appreciating the impact of water use on all the communities and interests within a water catchment area so that the risks can be mitigated. This can only be achieved through ongoing and inclusive engagement, collaboration, and by partnering with others.

The concept may sound simple. The challenge is to deliver it in practice—but we already have examples of successful shared-use approaches to water stewardship.

In South Africa, for example, the eMalahleni water reclamation plant is a project jointly undertaken by Anglo American Thermal Coal, BHP Billiton Energy Coal South Africa (BECSA) and the eMalahleni Local Municipality. The desalinization plant treats 30 million litres of water recycled from mining operations each day. Over half of the clean water is piped directly to the eMalahleni local municipality reservoirs. The rest is sent to Anglo American and BHP Billiton operations, which are now self-sufficient in terms of their water requirements. This broad collaboration has resulted in a triple win: securing access to water for mining, delivering as much as 12% of the community’s potable water and strengthening the municipality’s capacity to provide services. We have seen other similarly successful catchment-based approaches at the Escondida mine in Chile and in Cerro Verde, Peru.

To accelerate these kinds of catchment-based, collaborative water management practices, ICMM has been working closely with its members, external experts, and even other sectors, to develop practical guidance on water stewardship. We plan to soon publish this guidance, which we consider a fundamental step towards mining and metals companies becoming effective stewards of the shared and precious resource that water is.

About ICMM:
The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) was founded in 2001 to improve sustainable development performance in the mining and metals industry. Today, it brings together 21 mining and metals companies as well as 35 national and regional mining associations and global commodity associations to address core sustainable development challenges.

For further details, go to www.icmm.com and www.icmm/water

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