Integrated mine water management

The success or failure of a mining project is often linked to site water management, or the lack of it. Risks to a project’s success include tailings dam failures during storm events, slope failures related to elevated pore pressures, water in blast holes leading to inefficient blasting (adding costs and environmental impacts), lack of process water, and excessive closure costs.

To improve the long-term success of projects, mine water management should be integrated with other disciplines as part of the ongoing strategy during the design stage of mining.
As the opening article points out, overall water management on a mine site requires integrating all the components of mine design, operations, and closure. Too often, greenfield and feasibility studies ignore the connections between specific study tasks on a mine site, leading to a disconnect between critical path issues that materially impact the viability of a project (e.g., where proposed dewatering schemes ignore the impacts of discharging to the receiving environment). As a result, the overall feasibility of the project appears to be achievable until the details are considered together. 

To avoid this problem and provide the operator with a water management plan that will work at site scale, the total mine plan should consider broad water issues from the initial design and construction through operations (including slope depressurisation, blasting impacts, dewatering volumes, and chemistry) to the water balance for the mill and tailings facility and water issues at final closure. To do this, the multi-disciplinary team must be coordinated from start to finish for a project’s schedule.  

An advantage that SRK has in this regard is the broad spectrum of multidisciplinary mining skills available within the organisation, which range from initial geological targeting to final closure design. Integration across all disciplines within SRK allows our water management specialists (hydrology, hydraulic engineering, hydrogeology, geochemistry, water treatment, civil engineering, tailings, environment, and closure design) to work coherently and cost effectively together, leading to an optimal outcome for mining projects.

Michael Royle: mroyle@srk.com



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