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Water resources impact assessment: future-proofing and good governance

A4   |   Letter

SRK News | Issue 59 
Environmental & Social Services

Tony Rex,  Geologist and Hydrogeologist 
Water resources are a critical component of mine environmental and social impact assessment. While project-specific issues vary, broad agenda items typically include water security, impact on resources (in quantity and quality terms) and regulatory constraints, to name a few. Associated risks, whether real or perceived, must be addressed.
The profile around water in mining is increasing, and comprehensive, integrated and engaged assessment of water aspects is a key criterion for a project’s success. Mines of the future will need to be transparent in their approach to water management and be “good neighbours” at a very practical and local level; adopting open and transparent policies and protocols for all to see.
The foundations for a comprehensive, integrated and engaged water resource assessment lie in robust characterisation of these terms:
• Comprehensive – while an understanding of the project at a catchment basin scale is essential, how the water aspects of the project at site-scale interact with and impact upon receptors at a much larger scale should also be addressed.
• Integrated – water resources must not be considered in isolation but by how they interact, on the one hand, with the design and engineering parameters of the project and, on the other, with disciplines such as social studies and ecological baselines.
• Engaged – the issues and sensitivities around water require close engagement with all stakeholders. Issues and concerns must be captured, understood and investigated.
The characterisation process must develop from thorough, carefully designed baseline studies to detailed, quantitative prediction and evaluation of impacts. Using numerical and stochastic models for hydrological, hydrogeological and hydrogeochemical assessment, and for developing the site-wide water balance is commonplace now but models must be well designed and executed to meet the objectives: they must answer the questions posed, realistically and in detail.  
Addressing the predicted impact on a local river or aquifer, or on a water supply source in broad terms is not sufficient. Models must address the potential interactions between river and aquifer, for example, and address potential impacts to water sources in realistic detail, and incorporate transient changes during the mine development and the varying natural environment parameters.
A comprehensive, integrated and engaged water resources study is key to ensuring a positive and successful assessment. Further, this approach sets the governance structure for the mining project to manage water responsibly, transparently and sustainably into the future.
Tony Rex:


SRK United Kingdom