Worsening drought conditions in South Africa’s Western Cape Province should prompt different industries in the country, and even in Sub-Saharan Africa, to rethink about how they manage scarce water resources and adopt sustainable water management practices. One of the sectors which should take the lead is mining, typically a very water intensive line of business.
The mining industry mainly uses water for the extraction of minerals that may be in the form of solids such as coal, iron and sand, and liquids such as crude petroleum and natural gas. An article published on mining-technology website states: “The mining industry use water primarily for mineral processing, dust suppression, slurry transport and for the employees’ needs.” These processes can cause water pollution as a result of acid mine drainage and metal contamination, in addition to increase in sediment levels in streams.
For this reason, because of such challenges, key industry players should be committed to supporting a responsible use and management of water, controlled environment pollution and compliance with health and safety requirements. These should be sustained by adequate compliance with the necessary legislation in areas such as water licensing and environment authorization.
To meet their obligations, mines are considering other non-traditional sources of water such as wastewater streams, storm water, and co-produced water resulting from energy and mining industries. However, according to Science Direct, currently, the usage of non-traditional sources is insignificant . “Although water reclamation and reuse is practiced in many countries around the world, current levels of reuse constitute a small fraction of the total volume of municipal and industrial effluent generated,” it says.
One of the ways which mines can utilise as to achieve sustainable water management is through use of appropriate technology , says Aveng DFC marketing manager,Tanya Van Den Bergh . Among other tools, she cites an example of automatic control valves for pressure reduction, pressure relief and control which are handy in safer waste water extraction. On how automatic control valves work, Van Den Bergh explains: “Water in excess of pressure setting is allowed to flow to an area of heavy demand, control is smooth, and pressure regulation is positive which results in non-catastrophic leakages.
If miners have been in a slumber, the drought conditions which are hindering economic activity in the Western Cape should serve as a wake up call about the importance of sustainable water management practices. However, sustainable water management should not only be the sole obligation of mines, other players need to play a part. With respect to this point, Van Den Bergh calls on government to invest in infrastructure to enable effective water management.