Water Journal : Current November 2017
www.awa.asn.au 50 HARNESSING DATA FOR SUSTAINABLE WATER USE In an effort to ensure sustainable water stewardship across its portfolio, global resources company South32 has adopted a process to screen its operations for potential exposure to water risks. Using the World Resources Institute Aqueduct Tool, South32 can identify potential water stress, including under or over-supply risks. Parameters used in the screening include climate modelling and population growth estimates. At its Worsley Alumina operation in Western Australia, the company has used the approach to understand the short, medium and long-term implications of operations on the business and the wider catchment. Chief Sustainability Officer Rowena Smith said the process helps to inform South32's water stewardship. "Worsley has experienced a water shortage due to significant changes in rainfall patterns over recent years," she said. "We use scenarios to assess the magnitude and timing of water scarcity, with the information then used to develop future stewardship strategies, including continuing efficiencies, recycling and re-use, or exploring different sources of water supply." Smith said that water is a shared and valuable resource that must be managed responsibly at the catchment level. "In consultation with our stakeholders, we are working to address water security for our operations and, importantly, ensuring we consider the whole catchment in the process," Smith said. Mining THE PERIODIC TABLE WAS ALIVE IN THAT WATER. IAN WRIGHT, UWS "But there's a big question; how is that risk managed? What level of liability risk is being passed to government and is it acceptable? "There is a lot of uncertainty about predicting mine impacts on the water environment. It's very difficult and requires a lot of investment in adaptive monitoring and modelling." For example, a spokesperson for the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) said issues with regulating mining discharge are related to the increasing unpredictability of weather events. "There are a number of coal mines in central Queensland that release water into receiving environments when stream flow allows. EHP works with companies to ensure these releases are managed and controlled in the best possible way to minimise the potential for adverse environmental impacts," they said. "In regulating water releases, the most significant challenge for EHP is the nature of Queensland's extreme weather events. "EHP meets these challenges by ensuring that environmental authorities contain conditions requiring companies to install and maintain appropriate infrastructure to manage extreme weather events and requiring reporting to the department prior to the wet season each year." RMIT's Gavin Mudd agreed that concerns with mining water pollution are largely an issue of regulation. "We need much better monitoring, much better reporting, and much better accountability when things go wrong," he said. "And it's not difficult from a scientific point of view, but you need governments to be proactive." CROSSING THE STREAMS Although the water industry has great insights to offer in relation to environmental monitoring and water treatment processes, mining and water are two separate sectors only beginning to shake hands. "Historically, given their modest scale, the mining industry never had to worry about engaging with other water users," Mudd said. "These days the world is different. Mines are operating on a large scale in areas like the Hunter Valley and Bowen Basin, where there are a lot of farmers and local communities. Glass half full or half empty; this can be viewed as an opportunity or threat." UQ's Neil McIntyre said there are definitely opportunities for the mining and water industries to become more involved with each other, particularly in regard to the application of treated effluent once a mining operation has ceased. "Essentially, mines are not just mining the commodity that they're after; they are mining groundwater as well," he said. "Groundwater has value and, traditionally, it's been a nuisance for mining companies. More and more, they're looking for ways to use that water beneficially." Water treatment technologies and data analysis are two areas where contracting companies like SUEZ and GE Power can help mining companies become more sustainable operators too. "Dust management is a massive issue on mine sites and uses up a huge amount of water. We have a range of products, wetting and binding agents, which we apply on coal sites to help mines significantly reduce the amount of water they need to use," GE Water and Process APAC Regional Technology Leader Chris Harpham said. And aside from applicable technologies, Harpham says water sustainability practices in mining are moving with data. "Data is helping us understand how we can optimise things as we go forward within the mine site operation. Digitalisation is where innovation will develop over time -- being able to effectively manage a water system around a mine site to make sure you're getting the absolute optimised outcome," Harpham said. "It's about reducing costs, but it's also about reducing waste." But data on site is a different issue to data off site, and Wright said managing impact has everything to do with ensuring reliable data is available on all sides of a mining project. "I think coal mining can learn a bit from the water industry here," UWS's Wright said. "It could be the dawn of a new industry but we need quality data, and mines happy to share their data and talk to the community about it and improve that trust."
Current August 2017