The Challenge of Water AvailabilityBy Lorenzo Núñez | Wed, 09/29/2021 - 09:56
Q: What is the landscape for water availability related to mining operations in Mexico?
A: Water availability is very much a challenge that all industries are facing, not just the mining industry. Traditionally, water dams were specifically designed for agricultural activities but that water has been diverted to other industries. For mining, the situation is not looking great. CONAGUA reports that out of 150 aquifers the industry uses, over 30 percent are overused and others present high levels of salinization. In other words, 10 years ago, there was around 15 million hectometers of subterranean water available. Today, that number has dropped to 8.5 million. While mines do not compete with densely populated areas or with the agricultural industry, all their processes require water. As an industry, we need to look for newer and innovative alternatives in regard to how the water is used to increase its efficiency.
Q: What is the future standard for water management and what areas of improvement should mining companies focus on?
A: We specialize in irrigation systems. Lixiviation is a big area for us and our focus is on increasing its efficiency. It has been proven that drip irrigation systems in the lixiviation phase provide a level of uniformity that is hard to outperform. It is highly efficient and easy to monitor. Some situations however, due to hard-to-reach areas or weather-related situations, require sprinkler irrigation, for which we have top of the line irrigation technologies that allow operations to improve their efficiency and mineral return, as an example, recovering from Heap Leach Pad slopes with lower irrigation rate, using micro sprinklers. Gold and copper mines will get the most benefit from our solutions. All of our lixiviation systems focus heavily on durability and solution-spread uniformity, which are both key for improving efficiency and metal yield. Another of our areas is ecology. When a mining operation concludes, green areas must be restored. This is where we come in with our irrigation and greenhouse systems for plant nurseries.
In addition, monitoring is an important factor with these systems. The monitoring systems are set up alongside the entire lixiviation fields. The reality of lixiviation projects is that even when developing an entire plan prior to the operation, there is always something unexpected or different when operations commence. With a monitoring system installed, you can anticipate potential issues and minimize operators’ risks. In addition to the monitoring system, we visit the site and run various tests to identify how the drip system is performing.
Q: How do Aquafim’s products help mining companies achieve their environmental goals?
A: When our systems are installed, mining companies can enjoy higher water efficiency and a higher return from their metal resources. For instance, mines that are operating in particularly high-temperature states, such as Sonora or Baja California, could see a huge increase in their water savings by switching from a sprinkler lixiviation to drip or microsprinkler solutions. Our greenhouse systems also allow mining companies to improve their environmental performance.
A common mistake that many industries tend to make is to invest in irrigation systems when they realize their water availability is under threat. But I believe they are not looking at the issue in the right way. The way we like to present our solutions is not by showing how much water would be saved but, rather, how much will their core business improve. For instance, a mining company should not get an irrigation system just to save water. They should consider the irrigation system as a way to maximize their resource gains and their efficiency in multiple areas, such as safety and environmental performance.
Q: What was the reasoning behind Aquafim’s credit option and what are the benefits it can provide customers?
A: The mining industry requires a great deal of investment. With our credit option, mines can order parts and pay for them back after about 30 days. However, we also provide an over four-year financing option for those junior mining operations that are looking to improve their performance. This credit is not meant for big miners. This credit is for miners that feel the impact of price changes on a daily basis. We also have a consignment option for system parts, which we store and deliver from our warehouse.
Aquafim specializes in the design, sale and installation of irrigation systems and other innovative products for the mining and agricultural sector in Mexico.