By Etienne Jooste, CEO of Close Up Mining

The mining industry is often the cornerstone of the developing economies, but the industry is now on the cusp of a significant transformation due to the increased and much needed emphasis on a more considered approach to resource management.

As the world increasingly prioritises sustainable practices, mining companies are making efforts to address the impacts of the slow evolution to current efficiency levels, particularly on water resources.  

This shift is not merely a response to regulatory pressures; it’s a strategic solution for the industry’s long-term viability challenges and a testament to a broad commitment to environmental stewardship. Miners recognise that responsible water management is not just an ethical obligation but a business necessity. The twofold challenge is significant, from preventing contamination of groundwater and surface water to minimising water consumption in our often arid regions.

However, we see these challenges as opportunities for innovation and leadership. The industry is actively researching and developing innovative solutions to address groundwater contamination caused by mining activities. Researchers in China are exploring the use of alkaline filling materials to neutralise acidic mine drainage (AMD) and prevent heavy metal leaching.  Additionally, they are developing comprehensive utilisation and safe disposal processes for hazardous waste materials, such as arsenic-alkali slag, generated during mineral processing. We are investing heavily in developing advanced water treatment technologies that are revolutionising the way we manage water.

Advanced water treatment systems, including bioremediation and advanced filtration, are enabling us to recycle and reuse water to an unprecedented degree. We are also exploring nature-based solutions, such as constructed wetlands, to further purify water and create valuable habitats for wildlife.

These innovations are not only environmentally responsible but also make business sense, reducing operational costs and ensuring a reliable water supply for mining operations.

Technology is only part of the solution

There is an equal commitment to fostering a culture of sustainability throughout mining organisation and operations. This means engaging with local communities to understand their water needs and concerns, working collaboratively to develop solutions that benefit both the environment and the people who depend on it. We believe that true sustainability is achieved through partnership and dialogue.

The mining industry has a unique opportunity to lead the way in sustainable water management. South Africa began actively involving local communities in discussions and the decision-making processes in 2010 to better understand their specific water needs and concerns.

This collaborative approach helps to build trust and ensures that AMD management strategies align with the interests and priorities of the affected communities. In Mpumalanga, the country’s coal heartland, organisations are working with local communities to educate them about their rights and legal avenues to address the negative impacts of mining on their water and food sources.

By empowering communities with knowledge and advocacy skills, they can effectively engage with mining companies and government agencies to demand better environmental practices and remediation measures.

Additionally, community-based organisations like MACUA (Mining Affected Communities United in Action) and WAMUA (Women Affected by Mining United in Action) have also been formed to amplify the voices of affected communities and advocate for their rights to clean water and a healthy environment.

These collaborative efforts between authorities and communities are crucial for finding sustainable solutions to groundwater contamination and ensuring the well-being of those affected by mining activities.

Open communication and transparency are essential for gaining community support and cooperation, which are vital for the successful implementation and long-term sustainability of AMD mitigation measures. 

Collaborative solutions

By embracing innovation, collaborating with stakeholders, and investing in research and development, we can create a future where mining operations have a net-positive impact on water resources.

This means not only minimising negative impacts but also actively contributing to the restoration and enhancement of water systems.

This vision is not just aspirational; it’s achievable. We are already seeing promising results from our efforts, and we are confident that other mining companies can achieve similar success.

The key is to adopt a holistic approach that considers the entire lifecycle of water, from extraction to treatment and reuse. It also requires strong partnerships between mining companies, government agencies, research institutions, and local communities.

The future of mining is inextricably linked to the future of water. By prioritising sustainable water management, we can ensure the long-term viability of our industry while protecting the environment and the communities we serve.

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