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Working with water to benefit nature, communities and business

Nature is formed of four realms, two of which relate to water: freshwater and oceans.

Home to a wealth of biodiversity and vital planetary functions, water is essential to the health, wellbeing and prosperity of the Earth – sustaining ecosystems, agriculture, economies, and our own survival. 

The mining and metals industry is also dependent on water. From mineral processing and dust suppression to tailings management and the transportation of products around the world, mining uses and has a direct influence on freshwater resources and our oceans.

In most mining and metals operations, water comes from groundwater, streams, rivers and lakes, or through commercial water service suppliers. But demand can have consequences beyond the site gates, particularly in areas where water is already scarce. Sustainable water management is, therefore, crucial not just for business continuity but for the communities and ecosystems surrounding the site. 

All ICMM company members have committed to ICMM’s Water Stewardship: Position Statement, setting out our approach to water stewardship, and requiring members to:

  1. Apply strong and transparent water governance.

  2. Manage water at operations effectively.

  3. Collaborate to achieve responsible and sustainable water use.

The importance of catchment-based approaches

Humanity needs access to clean, fresh water. A catchment is an area of land from which all surface water run-off and subsurface waters flow through a sequence of streams, rivers, groundwater aquifers and lakes, into the sea or another outlet at a river mouth, delta or estuary.

Taking a catchment-based approach to water management helps everyone to understand how their respective water demands interact and accumulate within the area as a whole, rather than separately, helping to ensure that water consumption is within safe and sustainable thresholds for maintaining a healthy catchment.

Advancing Water Stewardship

Aligning with the Water Stewardship: Position Statement, ICMM members have been advancing their water stewardship following the three steps as follows: Applying strong and transparent water governance includes disclosing a company’s approach to water and reporting on performance publicly, as well as allocating clear responsibilities and accountabilities for water. It must also integrate water performance into business planning. 

Second, companies must manage water at their operations by setting context-relevant water targets, proactively managing water quantity and quality to reduce potential socio-economic impacts, as well as maintaining a water balance and understand how that balance impacts other uses such as local communities. 

Finally, collaboration is key to successful water stewardship. Companies must work at the catchment level to identify water risks and opportunities and then engage proactively and inclusively with stakeholders in the catchment who may be impacted by their water use. This knowledge must then be used to engage with local authorities, governments and other stakeholders to promote wider water stewardship, and support initiatives that promote better water use and effective catchment management.

Supporting Action

ICMM has published a number of documents to support companies in embedding these water stewardship principles into operations. In 2021, it published updated Water Reporting Good Practice Guide to help mining and metals companies report simple and relevant information on water including consistent metrics.

The Practical Guide to Catchment-Based Water Management for the Mining and Metals Industry (2015) outlines practical steps for assessing and responding to catchment-level water risks and opportunities. Examples of catchment-based approaches include building partnerships with other companies, NGOs, local communities and regulators to widen the ownership of water stewardship throughout the catchment. For instance, in the Athabasca Basin in Canada, local residents take part in water sample collection each year in partnership with mining companies in Northern Saskatchewan. 

In 2023, ICMM published a Water Stewardship Maturity Framework, a practical tool designed to help mining and metals companies embed water stewardship into everyday practice and ensure we manage water resources in ways that are socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial.

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You can read the full Water Stewardship Position Statement here