How better water and wastewater treatment is changing the mining industry
Today, mining continues to incite environmental concerns from the public as communities wonder how local water bodies and groundwater will be affected by the mining process. Mining companies today are working hard to clearly demonstrate how they will protect the local water supply. A basic understanding of how water and wastewater is treated in the mining industry can go a long way toward mitigating public concerns.
New mines go through a long and rigorous permit process that often takes years to complete. Every aspect of the mine is reviewed by regulators. Mines must address any environmental concerns before mining can occur. In the U.S., mines must obtain multiple wetland and stormwater permits, including a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for wastewater that is discharged to surface or groundwater. To receive a NPDES permit, the mine owner must have a daily monitoring and operations plan. If the mine doesn’t meet these requirements, it can face a hefty fine—or even be shut down if the problem isn’t corrected.
New technology leads to environmentally safer mines
Advancing technology allows access to real-time data, so companies are able to more quickly relay information to operators. This leads to closer monitoring of discharges, water quality, and data needed for permits. Advances in water and wastewater treatment technology also allow for higher quality effluent, more reuse of water and improved handling of solids.
Today, environmentally friendly practices in the mining industry include:
- Using reclaimed water to reduce the amount of fresh water needed for various mining applications
- Sustainable water and waste management programs
- Collection and treatment of stormwater
- Advances in physical and chemical biological treatment for high quality effluent and lower nutrient discharges
- Using treated wastewater solids for energy or land application
Mines today are safer and more environmentally friendly than ever before. They must meet strict permits to stay open and mine efficiently. Though they often instill wariness in the public, mines can actually provide many benefits to the local community: they provide jobs within the mines themselves and also lead to the formation and support of related businesses, thus putting money back into the local community.
To better understand the effects of mining on water quality, the public can attend community meetings, discuss concerns with mine staff and visit the mine site to see the operations and technology firsthand. It is important for those of us who work on the mines to educate the public, so we can mitigate concerns and continue to move forward.
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