SUSTAINABILITY Water stewardship
Managing our water resources is critical to Gold Fields, as water is not only a vital resource for our ore processing activities but also essential to our host communities – particularly where agriculture is an important economic activity. Managing our impacts on water catchment areas – by ensuring that we do not reduce the quality or volume of water in the areas surrounding our mines – is therefore key to maintaining our social licence to operate.
Our Ghanaian operations and the Cerro Corona mine in Peru have ample water supply through rainfall in the country, while the three remaining countries we operate in – South Africa, Chile and Australia – are water stressed. This is further exacerbated by climate change, which affects our operations and communities in several ways including, among others, severe rainfall, changes in rainfall patterns and prolonged droughts.
As part of the launch of our 2030 ESG targets in 2021, we set two overriding water management targets: reducing our freshwater usage by 45% from a 2018 baseline as well as recycling and reusing at least 80% of the water we use. These long-term targets have been translated into annual targets. We also continued implementing the Group’s 2020 – 2025 Water Stewardship Strategy, which is supported by detailed regional water management plans. Our strategy comprises the following key pillars:
During 2021, Gold Fields spent US$32m on water management and projects (2020: US$25m). At an operational level, we continue to invest in methods to improve our water management practices, including pollution prevention, recycling and water conservation initiatives. Our water performance during 2021 was a significant highlight for the Group. Not only did our total water withdrawal1 decline strongly to 18.5GL (2020: 21.7GL), the Group also met its two key targets for the year:
The improvements in both freshwater reduction and water recycling or reuse were achieved by decreasing water withdrawal at Tarkwa and South Deep. Tarkwa installed a micro-filtration unit on a clarifier return line to the carbon-in-leach plant, increasing its water recycling and reuse. Additionally, process water is now reused for cooling at the power plant and for mixing explosives and some chemicals at Tarkwa. South Deep continued to recycle treated sewage effluent, which was previously discharged. The mine also upgraded its potable water pipeline to reduce water losses.
|1||Water withdrawal is the sum of all water drawn into Gold Fields' operations from all sources (including surface water, groundwater, rainwater, water from another organisation or state/municipal provider) for any use at the mine|
|2||Recycled water is water/wastewater that is treated before being reused|
|3||Reused water is water/wastewater that is reused without treatment at the same operation|
In line with our approach to catchment management, we also invest in water infrastructure that benefits our host communities. This is most pronounced at our Cerro Corona mine in Peru where, since 2010, the mine has invested almost US$5m in water-related projects, mostly in the nearby city of Hualgayoc.
During 2021, work proceeded to provide drinking water to approximately 2,420 residents in Hualgayoc. Gold Fields has invested US$428,000 to date in the first stage of this project in cooperation with the Hualgayoc district municipality. A second phase of the project is scheduled for mid2022, after which all residents of Hualgayoc City should have access to clean, potable water in the winter season, when there are water restrictions in place.
Other water projects executed during 2021 included the operation, maintenance and automation of the drinking water system in the Pilancones area at a cost of approximately US$300,000, as well as preparation for a drinking water treatment plant in conjunction with a community organisation at a cost of US$167,000.
For small-scale farmers in the district, a sowing and harvesting water project was initiated to improve the availability of water by rainwater harvesting micro reservoirs. In collaboration with other partners, the investment to date in this project has been US$1.7m. It will benefit approximately 16,000 people living in 39 hamlets and three villages in the district.
During 2021, 1,200 micro-reservoirs were installed (out of 2,000 scheduled). We benchmark our water usage by participating in the CDP Water disclosure programme. During the 2021 assessment, we achieved an A- ranking (2020: A) – one of only 118 high-performing companies from approximately 6,000 that were scored.