Water use intensity in mining – in need of better metrics or water offsets?
Water use intensity (and quality) is critical to the extractive sector. Are related GRI Performance Indicators useful in understanding this aspect? Do we need better reporting metrics or should we look at water offsets to make a real difference?
GRI offers a number of environmental indicators to encourage reporting about water use. These range from withdrawal (EN8) to impacts on biodiversity related to water bodies and habitats significantly affected by discharge and runoff (EN25).
Most mining projects and companies spend a lot of effort (read money) to understand and manage their water footprint. This starts early on during the planning stage. Mining projects have to either deal with water scarcity (for example, in dryer, arid climates), or deal with challenging overabundance of water in tropical conditions or as part of dewatering of underground mines and deep pits, not least for safety reasons.
So is limited reporting in the mining sector devious? The answer is no (or at least a partial no) if you read the
Let’s take a quick look at Teck’s reporting approach. First off, it seems unclear if Teck actually responded to CDP’s survey or not. On page 34 of CDP’s Water Disclosure Report, Teck is listed as a responder, while the Appendix, which provides a detailed listing of response status, shows Teck as “NR” (=Not Responded). But that seems beside the point…
Looking back a few years,
Not sure if the lay reader (or even experts for that matter) can relate to any of these quantitative numbers provided. Taken on face value, the average recycling rate of 96% sounds great and the whopping 1,547% recycling rate at one of Teck’s operation makes you wonder how this has been ‘folded into’ the 96% average rate. But at the end, the questions ‘compared to what?’ and ‘so what?’ remains.
Putting the important issue of reporting metrics aside, I also wonder if some of the expensive solutions being considered to marginally improve water use intensity at a particular mine sites could not be put to better use. Would it be acceptable to adopt an offset approach to water in a way similar to using offsets for climate change and biodiversity impacts? Imagine, for example, how much more substantial water savings could be achieved when directing even a small portion of investments needed for marginal improvements at an efficiently run mining operation to reduce the water use intensity of the local agriculture sector or other major water wasters. Would that not be a more interesting and – from an overall sustainability perspective – a more relevant story to tell even if that does not fit neatly in the GRI indicators noted further above?
How do you deal with GRI-type reporting on water use intensity at your operations? What water offset approaches have you seen in the extractive sector?