Water

Water

Why is water important?

Clean water is of high environmental and social value to COIs. Access to water is recognized by the United Nations as a human right. Water is also a necessary input for mining processes and water extraction, or dewatering, is often required to allow safe mining of deeper ore bodies. As some of Pan American Silver’s mines and projects are situated in predominantly arid areas, it is essential that we manage the impacts of our activities on water availability, optimize our water use, and respect the rights of other users. 

Material TopicWater
Sub-TopicWater quality
Water use
DefinitionManaging the impacts of our activities on water quality and availability
Feedback From COIsCommunities are concerned about water scarcity and continued access to water.
How We’re RespondingThrough process improvements, we increased water recycling at San Vicente by more than 40 percent and Morococha by more than 25 percent.

We are working with local authorities to handover the Pan American Silver-built community water supply at Alamo Dorado.

Material Topics in Section

  • Potential risks and impacts
  • Water scarcity and access for local communities
  • New or more stringent water regulations
  • Water discharges potentially affecting water quality

Related SDGs

Our Approach 

Effective water stewardship is essential to protect shared resources and avoid impacts that may occur within and beyond our operating boundaries. Our management approach includes: 

Programs and Initiatives

  • Water baseline studies – All our operations have baseline studies that identify water availability and quality prior to mining or our ownership, in the case of historic mines (including at Morococha, Huaron, San Vicente, and La Colorada). Many of these studies have identified previously unknown water resources or infrastructure opportunities that improve water availability for COIs.
  • Site-wide water balances – Each mine site maintains a water balance that is continually updated with regular water monitoring data.
  • TSM Water Stewardship Framework and Protocol – We are aligned with the Framework and are in the process of implementing the new Protocol.

Monitoring

  • Water quality – We monitor water quality downstream of our mines to identify water-related risks and opportunities, and ensure that our water use and discharge decisions do not compromise other users and ecosystem needs. We monitor the quality of water discharged from our mines’ wastewater treatment plants to ensure that we comply with water quality standards. 

Our Performance

In 2018, our sites set water goals and identified practical projects to reduce their water use. Key achievements include:

  • Increased water recycling by more than 40 percent at San Vicente by improving tailings thickening in the process plant.
  • Increased water recycling by more than 25 percent at Morococha through improving water management in the process plant.
  • Recommenced water recycling in Huaron.

We are in the process of constructing a major upgrade to our new mine wastewater treatment facility at San Vicente, which will be completed in 2019.  

Our water balance graphic shows how much water we extract, recycle and discharge. We obtain water both from ground water, including the dewatering of our mines, and from surface water sources such as lakes or rivers. The vast majority of groundwater extracted at our operations is discharged without use, into local surface water, which is available to the general public. This new water is supplemented by water recycled from our process plants, tailings facilities, and heap leach pads to be used for ore processing. We also use new and recycled water for drilling, dust suppression, and our camps. Some of the water that we extract is provided directly to local communities to help meet their water needs. “Other” water output refers to water lost due to evaporation or retained in tailings or heap leach pads.

2018 Company wide water balance

Water Use Intensity

Water intensity is the best measure of how efficiently we use water in our mines. The average combined water use intensity at our Mexican, Bolivian, and Argentine mines is approximately 0.27 m3/tonne of ore processed, a level that has remained relatively static over the last three years. Water use intensity at our two Peruvian mines, Huaron and Morococha is greater and averages between 3.6 and 4.2 m3/tonne of ore processed. This is due to the fact that both Huaron and Morococha are located in areas with excess precipitation and relatively abundant surface water, and both use gravity-driven water supply systems – meaning that water flows from the source, through the mineral processing plant, is then treated, and released downstream. These favourable conditions reduce the energy use and greenhouse gas emissions at both sites, which do not require energy to pump water. Also, additional water and lime in Morococha’s tailings facility provide a net benefit to the region by helping to neutralize acid drainage from abandoned, upstream, historic mine waste.

Dolores is our most water-efficient operation with a water use intensity of 0.05m3/tonne of ore processed, which is well below our average (excluding our Peruvian mines) of 0.27m3/tonne. Our Dolores mine is located in the upper catchment of the Yaqui River, which has been identified as a catchment of high water stress by both the World Resources Institute and the World Wide Fund for Nature. Total water use by the Dolores mine is less than 0.3 percent of the natural recharge to the Yaqui River catchment. Despite the minimal impact our operation has on water availability, we continue to search for initiatives to reduce water use at Dolores and all other operations.

Next steps

Improve water use accounting at all operations and search for opportunities to reduce water use intensity, as part of our corporate goal setting.

Continue implementation of the new TSM Water Stewardship Protocol. 

Click here to see our GRI data tables with additional data for:

303-3 Water withdrawal
303-4 Water discharge

Water Use Intensity