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By Shane Lasley
North of 60 Mining News 

Water management tops mining concerns

Alaska convention will offer short course focusing on second-most important subject to miners, covering exploration to closure


Last updated 10/26/2008 at Noon

The theme of the Alaska Miners Association's 2008 annual convention is "Water Management for Mining."

Bill Jeffress, principle consultant in Anchorage for SRK Consulting, told Mining News, "Everything that is done with mining, from the initial exploration through development, closure and post-closure revolves around water quality."

Jeffress is coordinator of the "Water Management for Mining" short course, a two-day technical course that will provide an overview of all aspects of water management from establishing baseline conditions to post-mine closure.

Early detection

AMA director Steve Borell told Mining News that water management has always been an important issue to mining, and the industry has an increasing awareness of the importance of focusing on water issues during the early exploration phase.

Jeffress emphasized that in modern mining, water management is something an explorer should begin from the first assessment of the property. He said a company can collect basic hydrology information by the observation of seeps, ponds and streams.

Water management goes beyond the hydrology. To understand how to effectively manage water a company also needs to characterize the ore, the overburden and the waste rock associated with the deposit.

During drilling an explorer can begin to collect this information by having a lab do a multi-element analysis on the rock and soil, and testing to discover whether the material is net-acid-generating or net-neutral.

Jeffress said, "The more information you have on that initially, the better idea you have on what it's going to take to mine it."

Collecting baseline data on water can take several years. By beginning to collect this data during early exploration a company can advance the development of a project by a couple of years.

"If they have some good surface and groundwater information, that makes the package that much more appealing to a prospective buyer," the consultant said.

Design for closure

One of the biggest questions facing a company that is considering putting together a mine plan on an advanced stage exploration project is: If we are able to permit and mine a project, can we close it?

"As soon as you start designing your mine, part of that design is closure. We say 'design for closure' and that all revolves around water, "Jeffress said.

To accomplish this, a developer needs to do a thorough job of characterizing the mine site, and get a good handle on water quality through the operations and closure.

Water balance is another key issue when designing a mine. According to Jeffress, this is critical during advanced exploration and operation. This information lets the company and the permitting agencies know whether or not the operation will need to discharge water. A zero-discharge operation is preferred and is easier to permit than an operation that requires discharge.

"It all goes back to how you manage your water and getting a good handle on what the water balance is," Jeffress added.


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