Project Title: Developing a water accounting and assessment protocol for water management of mining and minerals processing
Supervisor(s): Jennifer Broadhurst
The mining industry and water resources are inextricably connected, with mining operations both affecting and being affected by their surrounding water bodies. In the context of water-scarce South Africa, this raises important questions for the sustainability of mining companies on a number of fronts including regulatory, environmental, economic and social. How to improve water management in line with these varying objectives is therefore a critical challenge.
An analysis of the mining water management literature indicates two strong themes. On the one hand, it is clear that the nature of mining and minerals beneficiation processes is such that various dynamic systems play a key role in determining important water-related parameters, from flotation performance to acid rock drainage generation. The second theme relates to requirements on the decision-making and reporting side of water management – in broad strokes; the information that is required by different stakeholders, at different points in time in order to make the kinds of water-related decisions that lie within their ambit
These two themes are linked by the use of water accounting and assessment tools and frameworks, which assist in identifying, characterising and addressing water-use risks and impacts associated with a process. Part of their role is thus in the provision of indicators which inform design and water management decisions. These indicators naturally depend strongly on the characterisation methods used as well as the differing focuses of the various accounting and assessment tools and frameworks.
At the same time, this chain of information creation, interpretation and use has not been investigated in the context of dynamic systems and the nuances associated therewith. This situation creates difficulties in addressing those aspects of water management which are intimately linked to these kinds of complexities. This study aims to bridge this gap by considering the interactions between these three stages in the mining water management process
This will be achieved by examining the indicator responses of case study mine and processing site models under a number of different design scenarios. These outputs can then be compared and analysed to better understand the linkages between the different stages in the context of the level of modelling detail (i.e. steady-state vs dynamic). This will ultimately feed into the development of a protocol which identifies how and when to incorporate varying levels of detail along these lines, as a function of the kind of water management decision-making required in different decision contexts.