SANTIAGO – Chile will need 540 million cubic meters (19 billion cubic feet) of water for mining in 2020, 45 percent more than it currently requires, to keep pace with plans that call for boosting annual copper production to 7.3 million tons by that year, according to a study released Wednesday by the Chilean Copper Commission, or Cochilco.
More water will be needed because of an expected increase in output by the mining companies, including greater production of copper concentrate, which is more water intensive.
Mining Minister Santiago Gonzalez Larrain said companies need to invest in alternative sources of water to meet their production targets, saying they are “indispensable at this time for mining development.”
“We have a $38 billion investment plan for the next 10 years” but that will depend on the availability of water, Gonzalez said.
He said the ministry’s policy is that mining projects without available water from current sources must have some alternative source of water – “whether that be (resources obtained from a) desalination plant or sea water” – before they can be approved.
The study also said that the use of desalination plants at the massive Escondida copper mine and the Xstrata firm’s El Morro project and the use of sea water at Antofagasta Minerals’ Esperanza project will reduce pressure on aquifers in the northern part of the country by 15 percent.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet this year formed a ministerial committee to address the water supply issue, including studying alternatives such as granting concessions for operating seawater desalination plants.
“We hope before year’s end to have a concrete proposal from the committee led by the public works minister (Sergio Bitar)” and that a public policy is in place to solve the problem, Gonzalez Larrain said.
Chile is the world’s No. 1 producer and exporter of copper. EFE