Why is water important?
Access to clean water is a basic human right and essential for health, agriculture, and other industries in the communities near our operations. Maintaining environmental water flows in certain streams and aquifers is required to protect ecosystems. Water is also a necessary input for mining processes and in some cases groundwater must be extracted to allow safe mining of deeper ore bodies. Mining has the potential to affect both local water quality and quantity. In recent years, the mining industry has emphasized a need to move from traditional site-focused water management to a more holistic water stewardship approach in dialogue with COIs. For Pan American Silver, effective water stewardship is essential to developing access to valuable resources, protecting shared resources, respecting the rights of other water users, and avoiding impacts that may occur within and beyond our operating boundaries.
Effective water stewardship involves minimizing our use of freshwater, using water more efficiently, avoiding negative impacts on water quality within and beyond our operating boundaries and many instances developing access to water resources that were previously unknown or undeveloped.
Programs and initiatives
- Water baseline studies – Catchment or district level baseline studies are used to identify water availability and quality prior to and during mining. These baseline studies can identify previously unknown water resources or infrastructure opportunities that improve water availability for our COIs during and particularly beyond the mine operation.
- Water balances – Each operation maintains a water balance that tracks water use, reuse and discharge. These data inform decision making.
- Community engagement – We involve community representatives in participatory water monitoring at our Peruvian and Canadian operations and are working to implement similar frameworks at our other mines where communities have shown an interest in such programs.
Monitoring and evaluation
- TSM Water Stewardship Protocol – Each site conducts an annual self-assessment against the protocol and develops an action plan to implement improvements.
- Water quality – We monitor water quality upstream and downstream of our mines to identify water-related impact risks and opportunities and to ensure that our water use and discharge decisions do not compromise the needs of other users while minimizing the impacts on the ecosystems. We monitor the quality of water discharged from our mines’ wastewater treatment plants to ensure that we comply with the permissible water quality standards defined in our construction and operation permits.
In 2019, our sites set water goals and implemented projects to reduce their water use. Key achievements:
- We completed a major upgrade to our mine wastewater treatment facility at San Vicente, which enabled us to increase the reuse of plant effluent and reduce freshwater use for mineral processing.
- We established water management committees at our Peruvian operations and invested over $2.5M in surface water management improvements at Shahuindo that also increases our reuse of surface and groundwater water that has contacted mine disturbance reducing our demand for freshwater.
- We installed water flow monitoring equipment at our Mexican and Peruvian operations to improve water accounting and management.
2019 Company-wide Water Balance
(1) As defined in ‘A Practical Guide to Consistent Water Reporting’, International Council on Mining and Metals (2017).
(2) Reflects additional accumulated/collected in water reservoirs and heap leach pads.
Our company-wide water balance shows how much water we extract, recycle and discharge. We obtain water through permits from both from groundwater, including the dewatering of our mines, and from surface water sources such as lakes or rivers. We use a portion of this water, along with water recycled from our process plants, water treatment plants, tailings facilities, and heap leach pads, for ore processing. Most of the groundwater extracted at our operations is for mine dewatering and is treated and discharged without use into local streams. This water becomes available to other water users and maintains environmental flows. Both new and recycled water is used for drilling, dust suppression, and in our camps. Some of the water that we extract is used to support local agriculture or is provided directly to local communities to help meet their water needs. Water is also evaporated to the atmosphere and/or retained in our tailings or heap leach facilities.
Water use intensity
Water intensity is a measure of how much fresh water extracted we use in our mines on a unit basis of cubic meters of water per tonne of ore treated. In 2019, we changed our methodology for averaging water use intensity and accounting for precipitation on our leach pads and tailings facilities which is now included as new fresh water without discounting evaporation. These two changes largely offset each other but did result in to our company-wide water use intensity which we are restating for 2017 and 2018 in this report.
Using our new methodology, the combined water use intensity of our silver segment operations in Mexico, Bolivia, and Argentina was 0.3 m3/tonne of ore processed in 2019, slightly higher than 2018 mainly due to an increase of use of tailings for mine backfill at La Colorada. This reuse of tailings for backfill reduced water available for recycling to the process plant, increasing water use intensity for mineral processing. Water use intensity at our two Peruvian silver segment mines, Huaron and Morococha, is greater, averaging 4.0 m3/tonne of ore processed in 2019. We report water intensity of those two mines separately since their data would otherwise masks the trends at our other operations. Huaron and Morococha have high water intensity because they are designed with gravity-driven water supply systems wherein water flows from large lakes through the mineral processing plant, is treated, and is then discharged downstream. Both mines are located in areas with high precipitation, low evaporation, and relatively abundant surface water. The gravity-driven designs reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions at both sites by eliminating pumping for water recycling. The additional water and lime in Morococha’s tailings facility also provide a net benefit to water quality by helping to neutralize acid drainage from abandoned historic mines and third party waste piles located upstream.
Our new gold segment mines, Timmins, La Arena and Shahuindo, have lower water use intensity and reduced our company-wide intensity (excluding Huaron and Morococha) in 2019 from 0.30m3/tonne to 0.15m3/tonne of ore processed.
Our Dolores mine had a water use intensity of 0.19 m3/tonne of ore processed in 2019. The mine is located in the upper catchment of the Yaqui River, which has been identified as a catchment of extremely high water stress by both the World Resources Institute and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature. Total water use by the Dolores mine is less than 0.1 percent of the natural recharge to the Yaqui River catchment. Despite the minimal impact this operation has on water availability, we continue to search for initiatives to reduce our fresh water extraction use at Dolores, as with all our other operations.
Water Use Intensity
*Water use intensity chart excludes Huaron and Morococha mines whose water use intensity is reported separately.
*Water Use intensity was calculated using the new fresh water used to process ore divided by Tonnes of ore milled.
- Implement site-specific projects to minimize freshwater extraction use and water use intensity
- Improve water use accounting at all operations
- Develop a corporate environmental standard for water management
- GRI 303-3 Water withdrawal
- GRI 303-4 Water discharge
Material Topic: Water.
- Water quality
- Water use
Definition: Managing the impacts of our activities on water quality and availability.
Feedback from COIs: Communities are concerned about water quality, water scarcity, and continued access to water.
How we’re responding: We reduced new water extraction at our San Vicente mine through increased water reuse and recycling.
Our company-wide water use intensity fell significantly due to the low water intensity gold segment operations we acquired.
Community members participate in water quality monitoring at many of our sites that provides greater transparency and knowledge about the water we use.
Potential risks and impacts
- Potential water scarcity and impacts to water access for local communities
- Potential water contamination if not managed properly
- New or more stringent water regulations
- Accidental discharges potentially affecting water quality
303-3 Water Withdrawal.
303-4 Water discharge