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The complexity of water management in mines

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Water in South Africa is a very important, albeit a very scarce resource. In addition to human consumption, all industries are dependent on the use of water in various forms and quality. This makes it very important for all consumers, and especially large industries, to manage and monitor the water they consume and release it back into the environment. Industries across the globe are encouraged to reuse water as much as possible, and therefore a “zero liquid discharge” policy has already been implemented by various companies in different sectors.

Fig. 1: With the growing demand and increased scarcity of usable water, it is very important for mines to prove that they utilise water optimally.

The Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation (DHWS) has updated and refined legislative frameworks with the focus on Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) to ensure environmental sustainability, socio-economic equity and efficiency in water use. The department developed policies and regulations that gave effect to water conservation and water demand management (WC/WDM). Sectoral WC/WDM guidelines were developed for the Agricultural, Industrial, Power, Mining and the Water services sectors.

Water is a critical resource for the mining industry, either in the mining processes, as a feed to the beneficiation of minerals process, or for potable use. With the growing demand and increased scarcity of usable water, it is very important for mines to prove that they utilise water optimally, by suitable reuse and reclamation of contaminated water. Water demand management and conservation forms an important part of mining operations, irrespective of whether it uses surface or ground water, and whether it impacts downstream water resources. By implementing state-of-the-art water management systems, mining companies will start to realise the importance of the water they use and will therefore recognise the scarce resource as an invaluable asset in their operations.

The key steps in the implementation of WC/WDM are based on resource protection and waste management and entail the following:

  • Prevent pollution and avoid water use by implementing waterless processes.
  • Reduce water use by using optimised technology.
  • Reuse and recycle water as far as possible in accordance with applicable regulations.
  • Responsible disposal of water or treated wastewater that is not reused, as to not pollute the receiving environment.
  • Always strive for greater efficiency in the use of water through the process of continual improvement using feedback and adaptive management.

Endress+Hauser has been a valuable partner in the water and wastewater industry globally for more than 65 years and in Africa for 35 years. Based on its industry expertise, here are some examples of where solutions can be utilised in the implementation of the DHWS Best Practise Guidelines (BPG) for water management in the mining industry.

BPG H3: Water reuse and reclamation

The reuse and reclamation of contaminated water is important for any mining operation as it indicates that they optimise their water utilisation. All new and existing mines are required to prove this optimisation of water reuse and reclamation by having a Water Reuse and Reclamation plan. This plan must consider the water and salt balance over the lifetime of the mine. Accurate measurement and storage of water abstraction, use and release data will assist in maintaining a historical record of long-term water balance. The Endress+Hauser Proline Promag family of electromagnetic flowmeters can be utilised for accurate measurement of all water sources on the mine, whether potable water, raw water or water contaminated with chemicals. The embedded Heartbeat Technology in the meters ensure you are at all times aware of the health of your flow meters and the reliability of the measurements received.

BPG H4: Water treatment

There are various water treatment processes (from basic to advanced) in development to optimally treat any form of mine water. The BPG H4 describes the technical methodology which a mine must apply to identify the constituents of concern that may require mine water to be treated for sustainable reuse or discharge, as a last resort. Various mine water treatment plants in the Mpumalanga area utilise the Proline range of flow meters as well as the Liquiline liquid analysis platform with Memosens digital sensors, often in quite harsh environments.

BPG G2: Water and salt balance

The most fundamental building blocks of a mine water management system is often considered to be the water and salt balance of a mine. Without the accurate and effective water and salt balance, it is impossible to plan, implement, assess and manage the WC/WDM at a mine. The water and salt balance can be used as a tool to:

  • Audit the water usage from various sources.
  • Identify where water is wasted, or usage is too high.
  • Quantify balances by measurement.
  • Locate and quantify sources of seepage and leakage.
  • Identify and quantify pollution sources.
  • Assist in decision-making.

Although flowmeters are calibrated using a certified calibration rig, the mine will be required to prove the accuracy of their water balance by doing traceable flow verifications every six to twelve months. With the Heartbeat Technology embedded in each Proline flow meter, the verification certificates can be obtained using a laptop (no additional tools or modems) or even remotely over an industrial fieldbus network, where available.

BPG G3: Water monitoring systems

An effective and well-designed water quality monitoring programme is an essential component of the WC/WDM measures at any mine. The following are some of the important aspects for the success of a monitoring strategy:

  • Your monitoring strategy should allow for discrete as well as reliable continuous monitoring.
  • The programme should be implemented according to the detail design and specified sampling procedures.
  • A detailed operating and maintenance programme must be implemented.
  • Data should be populated in a data management system.
  • There should be regular audit and quality assurance of the monitoring programme.

One of the ways Endress+Hauser can support a mine in their monitoring programme is by implementing standard or customised smart water monitoring systems. This includes an easy-to-implement solution consisting of the Liquiline water quality measurement system, an edge device connecting to the Endress+Hauser Netilion services and customised app or dashboard, to monitor measurement points remotely. With an Application Programming Interface (API), the data can be made available in the relevant data management system of the mines.

By utilising Heartbeat Technology in the Liquiline liquid analysis systems, the mine can be assured to receive early warning of faulty devices or parameters, so it can be addressed timeously, ensuring accurate and reliable data always.

To ensure reliable water usage and quality monitoring, including leakages and pollution events, accurate and reliable measurements are required. Heartbeat Technology in measurement devices organises clear, standardised diagnostic messages of what needs to be done to maintain the plant economically based on necessities. Along with this, it enables predictive maintenance and delivers evidence for operational reliability and process safety. As the devices run their own diagnostics, proof tests are only necessary in maximum extended cycles.

By connecting all the process measurement instrumentation to the Endress+Hauser Netilion hub, using any of the available industrial communication protocols, the users have access to all the process variables, health information as well as any maintenance, events and product documentation.

Contact Natlee Chetty, Endress+Hauser, Tel 011 262-8000, natlee.chetty@za.endress.com

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