Water is essential for life. Without it there can be no ecosystems, biodiversity, no agriculture, and no human survival. From the ground up – from the bacteria and fungi that form healthy soil, to the crops, plants, insects, animals, trees, fish and marine life that are part of an interconnected web of life – nothing can survive without water.
In many parts of the world, fresh water scarcity is making livelihoods and existence increasingly difficult. Climate change affects rainfall patterns, lowering water tables and drying up streams. Many predict that competition for this precious element of life may lead to “water wars” as a likely source of conflict in the near-to-mid term.
One of water’s key biological functions, its ability to transport nutrients across landscapes, also means that, when polluted, it can rapidly (and invisibly) spread into neighboring ecosystems, soils, crops, livestock and communities. Water’s flowing nature means that containing water pollution can prove an impossible challenge.
The increasing scarcity of fresh water for healthy ecosystems, food production and human needs in the face of climate change means that this precious element is more threatened than ever by the intense use and pollution inherent to mining.
All types of mining and extraction, whether for metals, minerals, coal, shale gas or tar sands, use excessive amounts of water. Water is used for processing, dust suppression, slurry transportation and waste disposal. The depletion of supplies or lowering of the water table has obvious implications for local communities and their ability to grow food or pick wild crops in the ecosystems they depend on for life.
In some mines, minerals are below the level of the water table. Breaching the water table causes the mine to fill with water, which must be pumped out. This in turn lowers the water table, depleting wells and water flow, affecting ecosystems, agriculture and livelihoods over a vast area.