Helping Miners Validate Water Balance Plans

Emerson's Juan Carlos Bravo


Author: Juan Carlos Bravo

In previous blog posts we have talk extensively about water problems in mining and how water is one of top issues miners are dealing with today. The reason I come back to this topic is because I recently read an interview with professor Dirk Van Zyl, an expert in tailings and mined earth structures and a professor at University of British Columbia. He gave the interview as part of the Mine Water Solutions conference that took place in Vancouver during the week of April 12th, 2015.

In this interview professor Van Zyl says that mine water is really one of the most important pieces because either a mine has too much or has too little. It’s very seldom that a mine has just enough. If they have too much water, then miners may have storage issues, and may have issues with water treatment. If they have too little water, then they have to find water supplies and some mines go as far as desalinating ocean water and pumping it hundreds of kilometers at very high elevation heads to the mines.

So overall, mining companies are paying more and more attention to the mine water issues that they are dealing with. It is also an issue that affects the communities very much because in many cases it is a choice of using water for a mine or having it available for agriculture. That is the case in especially some of the drier regions of Chile and Peru.

One of the most interesting questions of the interview is when he was asked the number one thing that miners get wrong regarding water; he answered that all mines have water balance plans in place right now. One of the toughest pieces is having a way to validate that model. That takes time, effort, and commitment to make it happen.

And, unless a mine and a mine company is really dedicated to getting that done, they may have a model on paper but not a model that truly works in the field. That can be a real issue. The quantity issue is a big part. The next one is the quality issue. And clearly mining companies are very sensitive to the water quality issues and potential discharge of water and treatment to get it to that level.

In addition to all that, I think that climate impacts will make this validation of a model even more important due the changes we have seen in recent years. For example, some studies have suggested that droughts in several parts of the world could last decades, like the one in the southwest in the United States. Or we can see extreme rain in places where we normally didn’t see it, like the one the happen in the north of Chile last march.

Source: The Sun Daily : Extreme rains in March 2015 in the North of Chile caused 2 deaths and the halts of several mining operations

In my opinion, validating water balance model requires more than just effort and commitment; it requires technology. I think that the validation of a water balance model fits perfect in the philosophy of pervasive sensing.

Pervasive Sensing Strategies

We want to put Advance Sensing technology to gather as much information from rainfall amount, tailing level, salinity of the water, status of mechanical infrastructures, etc. Once we gather enough real-time information, we can start creating historic records and performing Strategic interpretation of the results to compare with the theoretical model in order to validate and learn from the assumption that were made. Automating the sensing and the analyzing of the data, takes away a little bit the effort needed for this validation.

Once we have the data analyzed and compared, then we can have Actionable Information in order to make decision that will help have a better water management, predict and prevent damaging events, improve response time, see safety areas previously out of sight, and keep employees, plant, community and environment safe.

Droughts, flooding and political pressure will encourage miners to be even more committed to continuously validate their water model, discipline and automation will be their tools to maximize the use of the amount of water they get.

From Jim: You can connect and interact with other mining experts in the Metals and Mining group in the Emerson Exchange 365 community.

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