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Three of the regions in which we operate, South Africa, Australia and Peru, are considered water stressed. Climate change impacts our operations and communities in a number of ways – severe rainfall, shifts in rainfall patterns and prolonged droughts, among others – and responsible and effective water management is increasingly critical to Gold Fields.
Not only will water scarcity or excessive rainfall adversely impact operations, as water is a vital resource for our mining and ore processing activities, it is also an essential need for our host communities – particularly where agriculture is an important economic activity. Managing our impacts on water catchment areas – by ensuring that we do not denude the quality or reduce the volume of water in areas around out mines – is therefore key to maintaining our social licence to operate.
During 2019, we updated the Group Water Management Guideline by incorporating the commitments of the ICMM Water Stewardship position statement. In November 2019, the Board SHSD Committee approved a new Water Stewardship Policy Statement, which highlights our approach to water management and covers the following topics:
Building on this, in early 2020 we finalised our 2020 – 2025 Group Water Stewardship Strategy, which includes regional water strategies and three-year management plans. The strategy has three objectives.
Our first objective is to be a water efficient operator, which requires that we reduce our demand for freshwater from the catchment areas as much as possible due to the probability of water supply shortfalls and the communities' water requirements. We set the following targets to manage our water usage effectively:
Secondly, our objective is to adopt a proactive and risk-based approach to water management. As such, we are embedding water planning into core operational management, empowering informed management decisions and aligning water risk with resourcing over the life of our operations. This objective aligns with other key initiatives, such as integrated mine closure and minimising long-term closure liabilities.
Thirdly, we aim to work with stakeholders in the catchment area around our mines. This needs to be done with a focus on relevant key stakeholders and forums where collaborative water actions can be identified and realised. These approaches will be different in each region due to the nature of the community challenges and the local regulatory context.
In the short-term, our water management strategic objectives for 2020 comprise:
During 2019, Gold Fields spent US$27m on water management and projects (2018: US$32m). At an operational level, we continue to invest in methods to improve our water management practices, including pollution prevention, recycling and water conservation initiatives.
Predictive and dynamic water balances are in place at all operations, enabling us to account for water inputs and outputs. Water withdrawal1 across the Group increased to 22.3Gℓ in 2019, including a total of 14.2Gℓ relating to freshwater usage. This increase was mainly due to the commissioning of Gruyere in 2019. However, water used per tonne of ore processed continued its decline of the previous five years. Our total freshwater use reduced by 7.4% in 2019, or 1,125Mℓ, which is significantly higher than the planned reduction of 3%, or 415Mℓ.
Furthermore, we have set a target to recycle or reuse at least 65% of the water we use in our processes. In 2019, water recycled2 or reused3 amounted to 47.6Gℓ (2018: 41.4Gℓ), or 68%, which is also above the 60% benchmark of the ICMM.
We benchmark water usage by participating in the CDP water disclosure programme, whose water score is an indicator of a company's commitment to transparency around its water risks. Pleasingly, in 2019 Gold Fields achieved an A- score in its water assessment, (one level below best performance) an improvement from the B- score achieved in 2018.
|Water withdrawal per tonne processed||Water recycled/reused as percentage of total|
|1||Water withdrawal is the sum of all water drawn into Gold Fields’ operations from all sources (including surface water, ground water, rain water, water from another organisation or state/municipal provider) for any use at the mine|
|2||Recycled water is water/waste water that is treated before being reused|
|3||Reused water is water/waste water that is re-used without treatment at the same operation|