With water-shedding fast becoming a grim South African reality, mines are taking steps to reduce their reliance on the water grid.
Talbot specialises in helping large companies, including those in the mining and mineral resources sector, optimise their water resources so that they can protect themselves against the increasing risks of crippling water shortages, failing municipal infrastructure, and climbing tariffs.
The risks for any company that relies on water in its production process are significant, but probably more so for mining companies which may negatively impact neighbouring communities.
“The majority of mines are situated in water-scarce regions which means that their reliance on potable reserves for operational activities puts additional strain on a community resource that is already under severe pressure,” says water economist Mike Smith.
“Several of our clients in the gold, platinum and coal mining sector are working towards ambitious targets to reduce and, ultimately, do away with the use of potable water supplies,” says Talbot technical director Grahame Thompson.
This, he explains, is being done through the utilisation of groundwater that normally needs to be carefully managed to mitigate safety, operational and environmental risks.
One of Talbot’s latest projects involves the commissioning of a containerised purification plant at a gold mine on the Witwatersrand goldfields that treats water entrained through the operation’s dewatering programme.
“This treated water will enable a significant step towards water independence by replacing expensive potable supplies. At the same time, it will alleviate some of the burden on the already stressed supply system while enhancing the operation’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) reputation,” says Thompson.
The plant has been financed, designed, and constructed under a structure that sees Talbot take full responsibility for its capital and ongoing operation and maintenance for the contract period, enabling Talbot to sell water back to the mine at significantly less than the tariff paid to the municipality.
While the project will reduce this specific mine’s dependence on regional water supplies by as much as 30%, some operations are able achieve complete independence from the grid and in fact provide surplus water to local communities.
“The client’s ultimate aim is to become self-sufficient in respect of its water needs by investigating and developing other opportunities, one of them being the utilisation of alternative sources,” says Thompson.
“We have in-depth experience in the optimisation and maintenance of these treatment plants, which ensures that water production is optimised while the risk of adverse raw underground water quality issues is minimised, resulting in a sustainable treatment process and a happy client,” he concludes.