Another day of webcasts on mining and yet another long argument over the future of mining. We opined in the webcast that filter-pressed tailings is the only way to go with the future of tailings: if a mine cannot afford the costs, they should not begin, for they will not be able to end. Unless they can afford an embankment dam of compacted, durable rock and closure to a site that becomes a place where the rich may recreate like at Cannon Mine that is now a riding stable for the rich.
The argument arose after reviewing a paper for next year’s Lima conference on Mine Water Solutions in Difficult Environments. The paper that I trashed dealt with water use at quarries in California. And whence goes California, thus goes the world. I did not consider the paper to deal comprehensively with that challenge.
Consider: California is short of water. Even now they are desalinating water for domestic consumption. A large population demands ever more water. And the agriculture of the Central Valley demands even more water at prices that do not even cover operation. For the Central Valley is the biggest agricultural producer in the USA. And the farmers are powerful and politically well-connected and get water cheap. No politician can gainsay them.
So what of mining in California? Production of gold and other frivolities is not to be —there is no water available for such frivolities. But quarrying for materials to build houses, roads, and transport systems still has to be done. Water has to be found—or they have to cut consumption.
This problem is an issue in mining. The outcome is the outcome of the future of all mining. Mines will have to pay the actual cost of water. And the product consumer (the house buyer) will have to pay for products from mines that pay the true cost of the water involved in mining the product.
I suspect that the average house will cost a few hundred dollars more if the cost of cement and gravel to make the foundations and stucco reflect the true cost of the water involved in mining such products.
Quarries in California will have to desalinate water, use recycled sewerage, or do filter pressing of waste to reduce makeup water costs. That will increase the cost of the mined product.
So be it! The average house is already far too big. A smaller new house will not negatively impact the average new house buyer. And a higher cost will not deter the average buyer. Water will be conserved and water quality impact lessened. All good and acceptable outcomes.