After it was announced that the Chilean government would be suing mining companies for aquifer damage, lithium and copper extractors are ramping up efforts to sustain production amid 13-year drought.
As court orders are halting groundwater extraction, mining companies are now resorting to desalination, water re-use and even encouraging workers to shower with less water.
Two of the country’s main ore extractors, Anglo American and Antofagasta Minerals have seen production drop by 17% and 24% respectively in the year’s first quarter.
Mines are adopting water saving programmes trying to improve water efficiency while trying to find water from alternative sources, such as desalination. However, mines in high altitudes are struggling particularly with more severe drought and their geographical location not allowing desalination plants to be installed.
As the new Chilean government promises to make water one of its main priorities, some mines are struggling to find alternative water sources because their size doesn’t justify desalination plants.
Willy Kracht, Chile’s Mining Undersecretary, said: “We have to take care of this drought. Then there's climate change and policies being promoted at a global level, but we are also being tasked to develop more mining. So there is a kind of contradiction we have to learn how to balance.”