Chile’s copper mines will turn to desalination for half their water

Desalination will provide half the water demand of Chile’s copper mining industry by 2026, according to findings in a report by the Chilean state copper commission, Cochilco.

The report, Projected water consumption in 2026 mining, forecasts that copper producers’ total freshwater consumption will fall by 19% to 933 Ml/d by 2026. Over the same period, seawater consumption will more than quadruple to 924 Ml/d by 2026 in new projects and expansions of existing plants according to the Cochilco report.

Most of the growth in desalination will be in the Antofagasta and Atacama regions where water is very scarce, and in Coquimbo and Tarapacá, the report said.

Chile’s mining minister, Aurora Williams, said mining firms needed to use seawater in more processes to alleviate the stress on scant freshwater sources in the areas where they operate.

Mining is crucial to Chile’s economy with copper mining alone generating more than a third of the government’s income. Nevertheless, high water consumption in mining causes conflict between mining companies and local communities who fear mining projects will mar the quality and reduce the quantity of their drinking water sources.

Drought has struck Chile’s mining sector hard this year and production is predicted to suffer.
The government has pondered making it mandatory for some mining companies to build desalination plants to supply their operations.

There are 16 mining-related desalination projects worth US$10 billion planned or under construction in Chile, and nine are already operating.