Mine water management planning


  • Water management planning is required for all phases of a mining project

  • Planning should be underpinned by a thorough risk analysis where all relevant mine functions participate

  • Technology solutions are available to administer and track performance against the plan, alert to deviations, and report progress

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Benjamin Franklin.

Water management fails are typically not as a result of surprise event, they are usually a result of a failure to plan adequately and/or a failure in executing the plan. If the planning framework was in place and the failure still occurred then a route cause analysis would surely show a leadership failure.

Water management failures can come in many shapes and forms, but the consequences are largely the same: loss of materials and assets, loss of production, environmental damage, and loss of reputation. In the worst case, loss of life. All this can be avoided with proper planning and execution. Technology can support the process and enhance results but must be designed and configured in a way to administer the plan rather than detract from it.

The planning process commences early in the mine project life and considers the full mine life cycle, not least of which are the closure and post-closure phases. Planning at an early stage in the mine life cycle will not only safeguard success but also save money. As the project moves forward additional detail is added and the plan can be managed as any other project with a Charter established to align functions and management. Annual execution plans should be in place that are aligned with the budget cycle to ensure management is aware and adequate resources are allocated.

I have found the following steps to be effective as the foundation of an effective mine water management plan:

  1. Form a site water team: Formalize a multi-disciplinary water management team at each site

  2. Set commitment and strategy: Commitments or targets for each risk management area are required

  3. Identify risks and opportunities: Conduct a multi-disciplinary and "water centric" site level risk assessment with the participation of Responsible Persons representing the different mine functions e.g. environment, permitting, mining, process, maintenance, and community relations

  4. Design and implement mitigative and progressive actions: The plan must have action owners and be supported with adequate resources

  5. Monitor performance: Establish methods to evaluate the effectiveness of the actions

  6. Report and evaluate: Water data collection and performance evaluation are necessary to continuously assess the effectiveness of the plan.

A key figure at site is the person assigned the role of administration of the site water management plan. One person supported by a team of function leads is the optimum approach for the development and execution of the plan. The team lead, or Water Champion, would be assigned based on the context of the site, their background, and their leadership and communication skills.

A workflow and timeline for the annual planning process can be built. Alignment with the budget cycle is critical. At times, a good business case may be required to support the plan and help convince management to allocate adequate resources. If funds are simply not available, the risk analysis and mitigation plan will need to be revisited to properly manage.

The overall administration of the plan can be supported through deployment of project management software with the ability to assign tasks, track performance of those tasks, and connect amongst team members. With the assignment of meaningful water management system performance metrics, these can also be integrated with the plan administration to complete the overall picture of system performance. Where those metrics are based on physical parameters that are measured by sensors (e.g. pond levels), then the system also becomes real time.

In another blog post I will discuss how the progress and performance of a water management plan can be monitored and not only include lagging indicators as well as leading indicators.

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