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  • Last updated

    7:14pm on Feb 03, 2023

In March 2022, Sibanye-Stillwater united with End Water Poverty and the United Nations (UN) to celebrate Water Action Month and to contribute to the global advocacy around World Water Day, led by UN-Water.

Through active engagements, awareness and information drives with operational management and external stakeholders, we re-enforce our water health, conservation, and demand strategies. The annual global Water Action Month campaign helps ensure that WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is a top priority, and that the needs of local communities and other stakeholders are considered as part of a sustainable long term socio-economic solutions.

Effective and efficient use of water with a proactive approach to reducing our reliance on potable water systems, including the Integrated Vaal River System in South Africa for example, are some ways we hope to drive early successes and sustainable progress to ending inequality. As part of our drive to reduce our reliance on potable water systems, we advocate for the responsible use, management and protection of groundwater sources in the areas where we operate. The theme for this year’s World Water Day, observed in March, is “Groundwater – making the invisible visible”. World Water Day is an annual United Nations Observance, started in 1993, that celebrates water and raises awareness of the 2 billion people currently living without access to safe water.

The earth absorbs, stores and distributes rainwater (surface water run-off) beneath its surface in the form of groundwater. Groundwater is water found in underground fractures or voids in rock formations such as massive underground lakes and river systems.

On the West Rand of Johannesburg, major dolomitic aquifers (underground lakes) overlay the areas where we mine for gold. This dolomitic water is the source of water ingress, and equivalent to more than two times the gold operations’ total water demand.

We pump in excess of 280 Million liters (equivalent to 122 Olympic swimming pools) of excess groundwater per day to keep mining in the SA and US operations dry and safe to operate. A portion of this water is cleaned to produce potable water for use at our operations, reducing our dependence on external potable sources and aligning with our water independence strategy. The groundwater is treated to discharge quality standards in accordance with our licence conditions and discharged into the local environment. Our treatment and monitoring regimes, the results of which are reported publicly in catchment management forums and through an adaptive management plan*, support a regional approach to the sustainable management of surrounding ecosystems. Our SA PGM operations’ water security strategy is largely informed by the limited volume of groundwater emanating from fissures and faults. This groundwater is the source of a substantial portion of our total water needs and is recycled to ensure optimal use. Our US PGM operations have high water elevations adjacent to headwater streams and also receive excess groundwater that is treated to pristine water quality, better than permitted discharge water quality standards, and discharged back to groundwater sources via deep injection wells , percolation ponds and land application disposal.

  • * At our US PGM operations, the Good Neighbors Agreement (GNA) has an adaptive management plan (AMP). The AMP is an independent water monitoring plan. The AMP triggers appropriate responses to water quality. Monthly AMP monitoring reports are generated by GNA technical consultants, keeping GNA stakeholders informed about water quality issues.

Water produced at one of our many water treatment plants. Groundwater is treated to appropriate quality for use at our operations and/or for discharge to natural water streams.
Borehole being drilled to evaluate the impact of waste facilities on groundwater sources and inform the recovery and recycling of impacted seepage water.

Groundwater is essential to sustain human life from a drinking water and sanitation perspective as well as supporting sustainable economic development. According to The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2021 of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, billions of people still lack access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene. The report further points out that although the proportion of the global population with basic hygiene rose from 67.3% in 2015 to 70.7% in 2020, it still means that, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2.3 billion people worldwide (one in three) still lacked a basic handwashing facility with soap and water at home, and 670 million had no handwashing facility at all.

Our water independence and water security strategies have a desired outcome of ensuring the long-term sustainability of groundwater and therefore water availability for not only the economic prosperity of towns, cities and countries, but for basic sanitation and hygiene – a fundamental defence in building pandemic resilient nations.

As a global force for good we support the UN’s sustainable development goal (SDG) 6 which advocates for the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

At our operations we ensure that potable water is readily accessible at all workplaces for a workforce of more than 80,000 people and to some 35,000 residents in hostels and communities relying on mine water distribution infrastructure. We further maintain sanitation facilities, including sewage treatment plants, at all our operations to ensure that water can be safely discharged or re-used, with minimal impact on groundwater and other water sources.

Responsible re-use of impacted groundwater is measured at site level and disclosed as part of our commitment to transparent disclosure. 

We are driving initiatives in making the invisible groundwater visible and valuable:

  • Sibanye-Stillwater has an extended monitoring programme to monitor and manage our impact on groundwater. This information combined with specialist groundwater modelling and studies allows us to identify and implement measures to minimise our impact on precious groundwater sources
  • Water independence - Water treatment plants at our Ezulwini, Cooke, Kloof and Driefontein operations to treat some 25 Million litres per day of impacted groundwater for potable use at operations and related employees and communities, resulting in an 8% year on year decrease of potable water, making valuable potable water available to other users
  • Treatment of more than 255 Million litres per day of impacted groundwater to science-and-risk based limits before discharge into natural groundwater sources, streams and rivers
  • Initiatives, such as seepage drains and scavenger boreholes, to minimise the seepage of contaminated water from our tailings, waste storage facilities and other dirty water sources into groundwater sources. Groundwater, by its very nature, is easy to contaminate and pollute but extremely difficult to clean-up and de-contaminate, hence pro-active pollution prevention measures are critical to good groundwater management
  • The Sibanye-Stillwater Sandouville Refinery site in France consumes an average of around 90 m3/h of water taken from the city's industrial water network for the production of high-purity nickel. The current semi-open circuit can be further optimized with the replacement of the 3 vacuum pumps of two units with closed circuit pumps to ensure minimal water loss and enhanced recycling. This solution will allow both a water saving of around 10m3/h and also better functioning of the water treatment plant by reducing the volume required

Specialist modelling of plume migration at waste facilities to identify appropriate interception locations.
Schematic illustrating mining activities hundreds of meters below the dolomitic aquifers at our SA gold Driefontein operation.

Electromagnetic geophysical analyses to evaluate the flow paths of groundwater.

Learn more about Sibanye-Stillwater Water management:

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