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Mining Sector Roundtable – October 16, 2009

On October 16, 2009, the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE), in collaboration with the Mining Association of Canada (MAC), hosted a roundtable meeting of stakeholders/experts from the mining community to discuss issues pertaining to the existing and future use of Canada’s water resources by the mining sector.

Mining Associatin of Canada logo

The multi-stakeholder group represented a range of interests including industry, environmental non-government organizations, federal government departments, aboriginal groups, and the financial sector. The focus of the meeting was to identify the current and emerging freshwater use and availability issues within the sector, and characterize the state of water use information/data within the sector. The latter discussion also highlighted future information gaps believed necessary for sustainable water management. The final discussion of the meeting focused on recommendations to the NRTEE with respect to critical policy issues that the NRTEE might incorporate into its Water Program in 2010.

Water Use and Mining in Canada

MAC provided a thorough overview of water use by the sector, and identified current efforts underway by the sector with reference to improving its performance. The mining sector does not view water availability as a major constraint or risk to its future sustainability, although the sector acknowledges that as new mining operations are developed, this may impact water resources in the watersheds where they are established. Sector representatives are more concerned about excess water and extreme rainfall events than about the availability of and access to water for operational purposes. The sector recognizes the importance of managing potential downstream impacts to communities and ecosystems specifically as it relates to water quality impacts.

The MAC presentation noted a number key water uses by the sector:

  • Water management is central to mine plans and operations due to the fact that, for most mining operations in Canada, the key issue is too much water rather than a scarcity of it (with exception of Saskatchewan and the North). Therefore, water management and specifically de-watering (i.e., the diversion of clean precipitation and runoff) of the mine is one of the most important issues from an operational perspective.  Another important aspect is the segregation of clean and used waters in order to reduce downstream impacts and treatment costs.
  • The most important water considerations for a mine site include management of: stormwater, mine water and groundwater inflow, process water (includes recycle and make-up water), tailings pond overflow, and contact water.
  • The mining industry is involved in a number of initiatives to improve its water management: (1) Water Footprint Network (International Finance Corporation) which is looking at common approaches to water footprint measurement, accounting and reporting; (2) Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Water Protocol; and (3) MAC’s “Toward Sustainable Mining” (TSM) initiative.
  • During the discussion of water use, two federal government departmental initiatives were highlighted: (1) Natural Resources Canada’s Green Mining Initiative; and (2) Environment Canada’s recent release of a report – 2009 Environmental Code of Practice for Metal Mines.  In addition,  the Mine Environment Neutral Drainage (MEND) program and the National Orphaned/Abandoned Mine Initiative (NOAMI) are national multi-stakeholder initiatives in which the mining industry actively participates.

Xstrata Copper and Xstrata Nickel provided presentations that highlighted their water management programs and practices.  Xstrata Copper (Kidd Metallurgical Site representative) noted the importance of their Water Management Program, an objective of which is to reduce water consumption and increase water use efficiency through annual targets and a Continual Improvement Program. The program includes a risk evaluation of surrounding impacts due to water consumption, such as potential for erosion due to fluctuating water levels, potential to affect fish habitat during low flow periods, and potential to affect recreational activities and other regional operations. They also highlighted their innovative tailings disposal process which results in thickened tailings deposition, thus improving their water use efficiency and reducing the amount requiring treatment. Xstrata Nickel (Raglan Mine) representative discussed it’s “Zero Process Water Discharge” process used for management of mill processed water. The process has resulted in a reduction of water consumption with no discharge of process water at the site (“closed loop” system). Other benefits of the process include: important reduction of toxicity; energy savings; reagents savings; less water to treat; and better metallurgical effect.

Water Issues in the Mining Sector

Water Management and the Site Water Balance

The “site water balance” is an important issue for mining operations – the need to account for all water in and out of the site. The challenges of a site water balance include extreme events (the result often being large volumes of water entering the mine site), and the fact that the mine site itself is located where the resource exists and so the companies must deal with the associated site hydrology. In light of potential increased uncertainty of extreme precipitation events (both in timing and severity) due to climate change, this concern may become more prevalent in future mining operations.

A mine’s consumptive water use might be low but a mine’s water management can have a significant effect on a region’s water quality if contaminated water is released to surrounding waters via its discharge or through groundwater seepage. In order to prevent impacts to the receiving environment, water contained in tailings impoundment areas is treated and then disposed of at regulatory compliance points.  However, water treatment is costly so participants suggested that managing the water footprint of a site is necessary to both reduce costs of water management and to minimize impacts to water quality.

The mining sector is vigilant about potential impacts of operations to other users and ecosystems. Participants believe that the intersection between water quality and quantity is most important because quality may affect the ability of water to be used for other purposes. For better water management, industry needs to understand the other water uses in their mine’s region – water is often a shared resource and so industry needs to know what (if) other water uses and potential restrictions might exist.

Groundwater as an issue for mines depends on location and proximity to other groundwater users. For example, the dewatering of a mine may result in local residents’ water wells to go dry, and therefore needs to be addressed. While an important local issue, this was not noted in the meeting as a sector-wide issue.

Climate Change Adaptation

Jason Prno, of Trailhead Consulting, provided a summary of the World Wildlife Fund’s recent report – Climate Change and Canadian Mining: Opportunities for Adaptation. While the research did not specifically focus on water use and availability issues, some insights into this topic were noted. Climate change implications include variability in amount of precipitation, variability in timing of precipitation and in an increase in occurrence of ‘extreme’ events– all of which are regionally dependent. The report identified a number of case studies which highlighted the differences in potential impacts across the country ranging from production impacts to the potential for infrastructure failures. In summary, the study found that: (1) the majority of mining operations will be affected by climatic hazards, including vulnerabilities in the closure phase; (2) climate change is a minor concern in this sector and there is limited adaptation planning occurring.

In the discussion that followed, four reports and/or initiatives were highlighted as taking climate change into consideration. They are:, Environment Canada’s 2009 Environmental Code of Practice for Metal Mines,  The Canadian Dam Association’s Dam Safety Guidelines, the MAC’s Guide to the Management of Tailings Facilities and Natural Resources Canada, which has a cross-sectoral group looking at mining and climate change. The idea of risks and opportunities as a result of climate change and adaptation was also raised. Open pit mining has traditionally been viewed as less risky compared to underground mining, but annual climate fluctuations can put stress on pit walls and might lead to potential failures. While not related directly to climate change per se, underground mining, with its smaller ecological footprint, might be viewed by investors as less risky in light of climate fluctuations.

Water Use Information and Data

Most mining companies have a good understanding of their site water balance, including intake, consumption, recycling/reuse and discharge. Water use data are collected using meters and calculated from pump data, and are thought to be quite accurate. Reporting requirements differ by province and territory, but are usually collected as a requirement in water use or other operational permitting applications.

Although the sector believes that it has a good handle on operational water use, it believes that data are lacking on water resources in the regional context and on cumulative effects. Further, participants suggested that data are not packaged consistently and in a timely manner and are therefore inaccessible to other interests and the public or for broader management purposes.

Direction for Further Inquiry by the NRTEE

Due to the fact that participation at the meeting did not include representation from all provinces and territories, participants suggested the NRTEE understand water use policies and regulations in all jurisdictions.

Although participants were very interested in issues related to water footprint management and the intersection between water quality and quantity, they believe that these issues are being adequately addressed by other organizations working in the mining sector and there is no need for the NRTEE to work in these areas. Issues pertaining to water management technology are also thought to be adequately covered by other organizations.

If the NRTEE were to study climate change impacts further, participants believed that it would be most useful to study issues related to managing extreme events or developing a common approach to adaptation – including definitions and standards – with other industrial sectors, rather than focusing on issues related to water availability.


This summary is a brief description of the key points of discussion. It is intended to highlight the main ideas and discussion points and is not meant to be representative of the meeting in its entirety.





Jill Baker

Senior Policy Advisor


Katherine Balpataky

Research Associate


John Binns

Senior Consultant


Chris Doiron

Mining and Processing

Environment Canada

René Drolet

Director of Policy and Research


Mike Dutton

Director, Environmental & Health Science

Vale Inco Limited

Denise Edwards

Program Administrative Assistant


Elizabeth Gardiner

Technical Affairs

Mining Association of Canada

George Greene



Stephen Kibsey

Senior Manager

Caisse de dépôt et de placement du Québec

David Koren

Manager, Mine Closure and Rehabilitation Program

Natural Resources Canada

Drew Lampman

Environmental Coordinator

Omya Canada Inc.

Gordon Marrs

Xstrata Nickel

Tesfaye Negeri

A/Program Manager

Footprint Reduction Program

Natural Resources Canada

Simon Pelletier

Xstrata Nickel

Alan Penn

Science Advisor

Grand Council of the Crees

Cree Regional Authority

Robert Prairie

Xstrata Zinc

Jason Prno


Trailhead Consulting

Thomas Sulatycky

Environment Coordinator

Xstrata Copper

Zoltan Tompa


Sustainable Development Technology Canada

Vicky Weekes



Alan Young

Director of Corporate Programs

Canadian Boreal Initiative



Mining Sector Roundtable Meeting

October 16th, 2009

Victoria Room, Delta Hotel and Suites, Ottawa

Item Time Allotted
1. Introductions and Objectives 9:00 – 9:10
2. NRTEE Presentation on “Water and Canada’s Natural
Resource Sectors” Program
9:10 – 9:25
3. Water Sustainability and the Mining Sector – Mining
Association of Canada (MAC)
9:25 – 9:50
4. Presentation on a report prepared for the David Suzuki
Foundation, “Climate Change and Canadian Mining:
Opportunities for Adaptation”
9:50 – 10:15
Break 10:15 – 10:30
5. Water Use Issues in the Mining Sector

a) Presentation and Discussion of Water Use Model for the Mining

b) Presentation of Mining Case Studies:

“Water Management Program: Presentation to Mining Sector
Roundtable” – Kidd Creek, Xstrata Copper

“The Zero Process Water Discharge Project at Raglan”– Raglan Mine, Xstrata Nickel

c) Discussion:

What are the key/priority water use issues facing the sector
(now/future; and real/perceived)?

What opportunities exist to improve the sector’s water use,
and perhaps its competiveness through innovation (or other

means) in water use?

10:30 – 12:30
Lunch 12:30 – 1:15
6. Sector Water Use Information Identification & Characterization

a) Presentation on Water Use Information for the Mining Sector

b) Discussion:

Types of water information

Sources of information

Characterizing water information in the mining sector

Reliability (quality, availability, accessibility)

Coverage (national, basin, regional, site)

Usefulness of information

1:15 – 2:45
Break 2:45 – 3:00
7. Implications for Focusing the NRTEE’s Program


What are the key issues that NRTEE should focus on?

What are the key information needs that NRTEE should
study further?

What are some initial ideas on potential solutions to these
priority issues that the NRTEE could investigate (policy

options for example)?

What are some initial ideas on examples of particularly
effective governance processes?

3:00 – 3:55
8. Wrap-Up and Closing Remarks 3:55 – 4:00

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