22 March 2022

World Water Day: VZI commits to improving water management systems in mining

Submitted by Staff Writer
World Water Day: VZI commits to improving water management systems in mining

The relationship between ongoing natural environmental challenges and the socio-economic activities of humans has given rise to robust conversations on the role that corporations play in advancing their business interests while having minimal impact on the ever-worsening climate crisis.

ESG has become a vital aspect in company strategy across various industries. Its three pillars have set a benchmark for businesses to aim for when responding to the presumed moral as well as ethical obligation that companies have towards sustainable development. ESG has influenced a changing perception of how businesses can best utilise natural resources, particularly one that is most crucial to planet Earth's biotic and abiotic components ‒ water.

Threats to our water resources include water scarcity and climate change. However, chief amongst those threats is the challenge of productive human activities (farming, mineral extraction, fossil fuel combustion etc.,) and the role these activities play in the contamination of water and the degradation of ecosystems. World Water Day came about as a period of observance aimed at raising awareness about the importance of fresh water and our role in its conservation.

Celebrated annually on the 22 of March since 1993, World Water day has been bringing attention to the sustainable management of water and exploring the various means by which to provide safe water to billions of people who are still without access to fresh water supply and decent sanitation (as outlined in the 2030 agenda for sustainable development). The theme for 2022 is making the invisible visible. It is calling for a change in human behavior towards the usage of water and encourages companies to re-evaluate their production processes and how they impact the environment.    

Building a conscious and productive enterprise against ESG criteria has enabled Vedanta Zinc International to accelerate its efforts in becoming a net-zero water positive entity by 2030. One of its subsidiaries based in the mining town of Aggeneys, Black Mountain Mining (Pty) Ltd, has specially made strides in becoming a water-efficient enterprise. Following a water pinch analysis that was conducted in collaboration with Golder, the company has been exploring recycling opportunities and technologies that will enable the mine to make effective use of available water.

Black Mountain Mining has commenced with changes to its water management systems by dispatching specialists quarterly to monitor the quality and water levels of the groundwater in Bushmanland. The data that's been collected, studied and reported to the mine's environmental department comes from 36 of the boreholes located on the Aggeneys and Zuurwater property, and 31 on the Gamsberg and Aroams properties. This water monitoring study is also extended to an additional 25 of the boreholes on neighbouring properties to provide the necessary insights on freshwater availability that will guide the company on water usage for its mining operations.  

"VZI wants to ensure that our activities do not negatively impact any of our neighbouring farms and communities," says Black Mountain Mining's General Manager, Xolani Qamata. "To achieve this, we monitor groundwater on and off the VZI properties quarterly. Water levels are checked quarterly and monitored continuously in some of the boreholes. The water samples are then taken to a lab to be analysed for indications of contamination. 

"We consult with a geohydrological company that does the monitoring and ensures that the correct analysis of the groundwater samples are conducted. Reports are generated to highlight areas that may need action or further attention."

Collated data from reports is also used to update groundwater models that VZI is using to predict environmental impact and guide decision making.

In the long term, VZI is looking at the possibility of converting their tailings deposition into a dry stacking deposition system to help increase the volume of water that can be reused or recycled. 

Some of the primary methods employed by the company to address problems with water conservation and further minimise impact on the natural environment include:

Efficient storage – covering water dams and ponds where possible to decrease water evaporation. A significant amount of water can be saved by preventing evaporation.Reuse of dirty water – water is reused at both the plants and in the BMM backfill process. Further projects have been identified to increase the recycling of dirty water.Efficient use – ensuring that water is used where it is needed and not wasted through leaks and seepages.