Chile is suing copper and lithium mines operators over excessive use of ground water and environmental damages.
Specific mines operated by BHP, Antofagasta and Albemarle have been cited in the suit that claims the operators breached environmental protection, preservation, and conservation rules.
The country is the world’s top copper producer and the second largest lithium exporter, two types of ore whose extraction relies heavily on water use.
The State Defense Council claims that the mines caused significant damage to the Monturaqui-Negrillar-Tilopozo aquifer. “The extraction of various amounts of water by the sued mining companies would have caused damage that was foreseeable, since they were aware of the maximum limit of descent that the aquifer could have,” the lawsuit says.
BHP, Antofagasta and Albemarle deny any wrongdoing.
Chile is going through a 13-year long drought which has fuelled disagreements between the government and mining companies over water usage. After massive protests in 2019, former President Sebastián Piñera was pressured to adopt a stricter stance against mining companies. Despite this action, current president Gabriel Boric was elected in March with the highest number of votes in the country’s history.
President Boric ran on an environmentalist platform and is ultimately responsible for the State Defense Council, the entity that is filing the lawsuit.
The drought has also caused the capital city of Santiago to plan a water rationing regime. Santiago is home to over 6 million people.
“A city can’t live without water,” Claudio Orrego, the governor of the Santiago metropolitan region, said in a press conference. “And we’re in an unprecedented situation in Santiago’s 491-year history where we have to prepare for there to not be enough water for everyone who lives here.”
The plan comprises a multi-level alert system ranging from public service announcements, including reductions in water pressure, and escalating to rotating water cuts. The level of rationing will be determined by the flow of water measured in liters per second in the Maipo and Mapocho Rivers which supply most of the city’s water.