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How is water treated and managed in mining?
28 June 2018
How is water treated and managed in mining?

Mining is an industry which uses a vast amount of water for its processes. From extracting minerals to keeping equipment clean and in operating order, mines use water for daily purposes. However, once this water has been used, it becomes acidic and unusable. 

This calls for mine water treatment protocols to be put in place in order to minimise environmental impact and for the water to become reusable once again. Below are some processes that help to transform mine water from unusable to viable once again.

 

Intercepting and diverting surface water

Rainwater and water from streams or brooks should be intercepted from entering the mine area by building upstream dams. This is in order to reduce the potential for water contamination from exposed ore and other harmful minerals

By diverting this water, mines are reducing the amount of water that will be contaminated by their processes, meaning that the area in which they are located will not have to compromise on their water source quality. It also allows the mines to only use water that is available to them, reducing their water consumption levels and making their practices more environmentally friendly. 

 

Active water treatment

Active water treatment is the most common form of treating water in active mines. Advanced software is used for predicting the makeup of effluent water prior to mine construction. The appropriate mine water treatment is then chosen accordingly. 

Mine water is often acidic, which means that they require the use of lime, limestone, or caustic soda to raise the pH. Once this level has been raised, dissolved metals sink to the bottom of sedimentation ponds where they can easily be removed. Chemicals such as coagulants or flocculants are added if necessary in order to bind smaller particles together to form bigger clumps for more efficient removal. 

 

Passive water treatment

Passive mine water treatment is commonly combined with water monitoring programmes. It makes use of natural physical, chemical, and biological processes that help to remove contaminants from the water. It is known as ‘passive’ because of this fact. 

Examples include using plants to eliminate contamination, removing the need for using harsh chemicals. The use of this technique in the mining industry is still under development, but it has been used successfully to treat municipal water and urban runoff. Constructed wetlands are the most common form of passive mine water treatment and act as natural purification systems which filter water for contaminants before it reaches the sea or any rivers. 

 

Capturing rainwater

Using a tank to capture rainwater on a mining site is another way in which mines are turning to more eco-friendly water conservation processes. This water can be directed into nearby tailings dams in order to prevent contaminated water from entering the groundwater. 

The rainwater can also be used in mining processes that do not need purified water, such as cleaning equipment or using in the ablutions facilities onsite. This is a highly eco-friendly way to save water and to manage the amount of water a mine uses unnecessarily. Installing rain catchment tanks on a mine site is not a difficult task, but it is important to ensure that they are not in the path of any trucks, equipment or workers. 

 

Reducing water needs

One way that water is managed in mines is the minimising of water needs. This makes mine water treatment easier and more efficient, and also reduces the amount of water mines use in their processes. 

Developing ways in which to keep processing materials as dry as possible is one way to reduce water needs. Another way is to evaluate the storage procedures that can use less water and to preserve the water that is already used in the procedure. By reducing the number of processes that need water, mines can contribute to water conservation programmes. It can also make the water treatment process easier and more efficient. 

 

Lining waste rock and ore piles

By installing liners to cover waste rock and ore piles, mines can reduce the amount of contaminants that the water comes into contact with. These liners keep the water safe and prevent contamination of the runoff from tailings dams and other mine water sources. 

These rock piles should not be left uncovered if a mine owner knows they will come into contact with water, as this is irresponsible and can cause further water wastage. These liners should be properly maintained at all times, and changed if the need arises. Rubber liners are highly effective for this use as they allow water to flow easily over the rocks without breaking, tearing or becoming covered in algae. 

 

Conclusion

Mine water treatment and management is effective in reducing the water-footprint of any mine, as long as it is done effectively. Using active water treatment is more common in many mines, but passive water treatment is gaining traction after its success in municipal applications. Diverting surface water is also an effective method to reduce the contamination of surface water. While the mining industry does use a lot of water in its processes, steps are being taken to treat, manage and conserve water. 
 

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