Raúl Noguez Ríos
President
Camimex Water Commission
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View from the Top

Fostering Best Practices in Water Management

Mon, 10/21/2013 - 15:16

Q: How would you describe current water availability in Mexico for mining activities?

A: Water availability in the country varies according to geographical location and socioeconomic factors, such as whether the area is highly populated or not. Most underground mining operations have access to water bodies that are close to the surface and can be easily reached. This situation was taken into account within the current legal framework, and the use of this water does not require a concession for that particular mining activity. However, the National Water Commission (Conagua) must be informed because extraction, exploitation and consumption of water are all subject to duties. Under the current framework more than 75% of national water is not paid for, due to fiscal stimuli, since most water is intended for farming. Also, municipalities pay 10 times less for each cubic meter than mining companies and other selfsufficient industries do. It is important to point out that for other industries water access is more complicated.

Q: What are the priorities of the Water Commission on matters of water access and use?

A: Most of the issues that the commission deals with relate not to water access itself but to conflict with the authorities. The commission supports member companies by informing them of all changes or intentions to change the law, regulations and official norms, as well as analyzing the challenges and opportunity areas that these changes present and the effect they will have on the industry. If the issue is expected to have a major impact the Commission gathers evidence and arguments to promote or challenge the legal initiative, working together with other industrial and business chambers, academic institutions, state and local water management agencies and other users in order to do so.

Q: According to Camimex’s Water Commission, what modifications should be made to the current legal framework in order to benefit the mining industry?

A: An essential objective for Camimex is to make water available, today and in the future. We need to modify the current legal framework if we are to achieve this objective. The first and most important step is to stimulate good water use and reuse. If a first user passes its residual water down to a second user, the first user should not be required to pay for new extracted water, provided that the volume is equal to the amount it passed on to the second user. If the second user does the same and passes the water down to a third user, it should enjoy the same benefits. If a second user invests money in treating residual water from a first user with the aim of making it suitable for their own use, that investment should be deducted from the rights it has to pay for water extraction. With these types of measures in place, the aquifer or body of water from which all three users are obtaining water will have less water extracted, equal to the sum of the volume that is being transmitted between the users. In other words, once water has been extracted it can be used at least two or more times. Obviously, with these sorts of measures there will be more water availability for new users and greater supply for the population and social and economic activities. This will not only satisfy the current need but also the future need for water. Another important issue that must be taken into account for any legal modifications is to shorten the authorities’ response time. Conagua’s legal timeframe for resolving a concession request is 70 working days, but it usually takes longer. Through modifications of the legal framework water users in Mexico have become more efficient and competitive. Government institutions may keep to the above response time, but they do not give their final resolution until many weeks or months after that period has passed. Such delays have financial repercussions, and it is therefore essential for the authorities not only to respect deadlines but also to shorten response times in order to increase competitiveness.

Q: What advice does Camimex give to its members to help them lower their water consumption?

A: Water is needed for all mining processes, and in general terms, mining is about reducing rock dimension in order to isolate the mineral particles. It is at the final stages of grinding and flotation that the largest quantity of water is used. Up until 20 years ago, the water consumption required to process or grind a tonne of mineral was 3-4m3 (3,000-4,000l) of water. That consumption is currently between 0.5m3 and 1m3, with the rest coming from water recovery systems; most of the water is recovered and reused during the process. Mining products, however, are sold at the same price everywhere in the world, and we do not have any influence over prices. Reducing operational costs has a direct impact on utilities, and most mining companies in Mexico are recovering and reusing water in their processes, which lowers operational costs.

The Camimex Water Commission’s goal is to standardize best practices. We are focused on two issues: the first is promoting full knowledge of the law. The difference in how mining companies perform can depend on their level of knowledge of the current legal framework. We disseminate information on all aspects of the law (regulations, norms and such) so that every company knows exactly what its rights and duties are, and in order to give the industry equal knowledge. Secondly, we relay best practice examples, because the use of technology depends on each company’s resource availability. Our priority is to make knowledge accessible to all, regardless of particular financial conditions.