Mining continues to be one of the major contributors and facilitators in our daily lives, whether we care to know or not. It has provided the raw materials for consumer products that cater to our lifestyle like cell phones, tablet computers, automobiles, aircraft, toothpaste, utensils, jewelry, life-saving medical devices, photography, gypsum in the walls of our homes and so forth. Millions of gallons of fresh water per day goes into the extraction and processing of the minerals and ores used in the making these products.
The amount of fresh water used depends on factors such as the type of commodity that is mined, mining operation, climate and hydrologic conditions. There are close to 350 mines in operation in California, while the rest are abandoned due to exhausted natural resources or funds for mining operations. A report conducted by the United States Geological Survey estimated that “During 2005, an estimated 4,020 million gallons per day was withdrawn for mining purposes.” In California alone, the survey estimates about 200-640 million gallons of water is used from both surface water sources such as lakes, rivers and ground water sources that originates from rain, snow, sleet, hail that seep into the ground.
The lifecycle of a mine is dependent on factors such as the amount of available freshwater, technology, tools, funds for mining operations that includes freshwater, demand for the specific natural resource, deposits in the potential site and ability to adapt to changes in lifestyle of the population. The mining processes can not only scar the natural landscape, they also create environmental hazards long after the mining activity has stopped. For example processing chemicals such as cyanide used at active mining sites create bright, colorful ponds called tailings, that may seep into the ground and contaminate groundwater that is used by surrounding farms, towns and communities for drinking.
The future of the mining industry has always been determined by the population’s reliance on technology, that is supported by minerals and ores. With freshwater still playing a major role in the mining process among other industry processes, its availability may soon become the only determining factor.