Moving in a New Direction: Water Conservation / Water Demand Management in the South African Mining Industry


Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) and Mining Council of South Africa (MinCoSA)


South Africa
Estimated Reading Time: 11 minutes

South Africa’s water resources are under stress from increased urbanization and increased industrial and domestic water use driving greater demand. The availability of “new,” clean water is threatened by this growing demand which, if left unchecked, could lead to a national water crisis.

As a result, the South African government’s Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) is challenging the high-water-demand mining industry to re-assess the way it uses and manages water in its industry.

The concept of Water Conservation / Water Demand Management (WC/WDM) is a key principle in South Africa’s National Water Resource Strategy (NWRS). The NWRS was developed to ensure optimal and responsible use of the national water resource. Prior to this point, there had been little direction, oversight, or incentive for the mining industry to be more proactive in their water management strategies, including adoption of new water-efficient models and technologies, and retrofit of existing facilities.

Golder was brought in by the DWS and Minerals Council South Africa (formerly Chamber of Mines) to assist with the implementation of a collaborative project: “Setting of Water Conservation and Water Demand Management Targets in the South African Mining Sector.” This project was developed with buy-in from the mining industry to consider how incentives, regulatory guidance, application of methodologies and technologies, and reporting or modeling of water balances might improve industry uptake of WC/WDM. Members of the Minerals Council South Africa have interests in the private mining industry and, as a group, are influencers of mining best practices. The support of this project by members of the Minerals Council South Africa, who influence the industry best-practice in water management, was critical to getting the industry to adopt the new benchmarks and guidelines identified by Golder.

Golder conducted site visits to 40 different mine sites producing various commodities (e.g., coal, diamonds, iron ore, chrome). Site visits and interviews were conducted to assess current water demand, water management practices, feasibility of adoption of new water management techniques, and the culture and attitude toward water and demand management. The data gathered at the mine sites included water balance, water efficiency measures, and the costs for existing water use approaches.

After conducting the site surveys and analyzing the data gathered, Golder developed the new industry standards to measure the success of WC/WDM in mining projects:

  • A variables matrix identifying characteristics of a generic mine water system to help achieve WC/WDM targets.
  • Benchmarks for WC/WDM, and the creation of key indicators and commodity-based water use benchmarks that mines can use to self-regulate, and that also allow the DWS to measure mine compliance.
  • Guidelines for the development and implementation of WC/WDM, including methodologies to measure success.
  • A Standardized Water Accounting Framework (SWAF) to support the establishment of an online WC/WDM self-reporting system.

The new standards developed by Golder now provide a consistent tracking, reporting, analysis, and enforcement approach across the industry, soundly based in WC/WDM water use and re-use methodologies. The mining industry has taken up the challenge to implement WC/WDM, with adopters already seeing effective site-wide water management and cost savings. Strategies have been implemented to mitigate the long-term consequences of previous water use, with an emphasis on reuse and recycling the large volumes of wastewater generated by mining activities.

Cost savings have already been reported from the recommended water conservation approaches that use available machinery and technologies. These cost savings are incentivizing continued WC/WDM compliance.

Through efficient water management of South Africa’s water resources more water can be made available to communities for agriculture and other industries. Improved availability of water is leading to a healthier environment, socio-economic growth, and improved relationships between mine owners and the communities in which they operate.

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