Case Study 09 (Spanish):
Case Study 09: Harvesting Water in Chile’s Atacama Desert

THE ISSUE: Water is vital for life in all its forms. It’s an essential resource for the communities in which our mines operate and for the livelihoods of the people who live in them. It’s often the vital factor controlling biological habitat type and quality. Water is also critical for mining processes – from ore processing to dust suppression to the daily needs of employees. In what ways can mining companies safeguard water resources so that they continue to be available to meet the various needs of multiple users?

THE KINROSS WAY

Kinross is committed to protecting water resources in the regions where we operate. We recognize that the value of water far exceeds its monetary cost.

All of our sites are required to maintain a comprehensive account of their water balance. Reported quarterly, tracking an accurate water balance is an important performance metric for all of our operations. To learn more about our water strategy and performance, see our discussion on Water Management.

Kinross’ approach recognizes that water management must be tailored to fit local environmental conditions and user requirements, and therefore must be site specific. Our work in Chile near our Maricunga and La Coipa mines provides one example of this approach.

Our Maricunga and La Coipa mines are located approximately 4,000 metres above sea level in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on Earth. In this water-stressed area, we have undertaken extensive studies to better understand the hydrologic cycle in the area, implemented measures to improve water efficiency and, in co-operation with local water authorities, worked to improve water resource stewardship. Our efforts are improving the overall understanding of this sensitive ecosystem and the hydrologic system it relies upon. Maricunga and La Coipa draw water from an isolated closed basin where water collects and is contained, with no waterway to flow out. While the water in this basin is not accessible to nearby communities, it is a vital factor in the region’s biological ecosystems because it supports wetlands that are vital habitat for wildlife including vicuña, flamingo and guanaco. See Case Study 10: Ecosystem Protection at Lobo-Marte.

The challenge is recharging the aquifer in an environment where annual precipitation is approximately 150 millimetres, and comes as snow. Studies indicate that between 60% and 90% of the snow sublimates, a process whereby the snow evaporates into the air rather than melting and contributing to surface and groundwater.

In a pilot project begun in 2011, we are looking at increasing water supply by improving snowmelt infiltration into groundwater. In 2011, Kinross installed two 100-metre lines of wooden snow fencing at Maricunga and Lobo-Marte, the type commonly used to keep roads clear, in an area where we could measure the effect on the groundwater system. The objective was to capture large amounts of snow, which would otherwise mostly be lost to sublimation, in drifts along the fencing so that when these dense accumulations melt in the spring, they will recharge the groundwater aquifer.

Preliminary results from the 2011 pilot were promising. The fences created snow drifts several metres deep and the accumulated snow contributed to an increase in groundwater recharge during the spring melt. Kinross expanded the test in 2012 to gather additional data and further prove the concept. If successful, Kinross is optimistic that carefully installed snowfences can result in meaningful contributions to the local water supply. Looking ahead, Kinross and the Chilean National Irrigation Commission are exploring a joint research project to test the efficacy of snow harvesting and even evaluate its potential in other water-stressed areas.

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