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News > Latin America

Chilean Miners Turn to the Sea to Save Freshwater

  • Mining is a key industry in Chile's northern deserts.

    Mining is a key industry in Chile's northern deserts. | Photo: Reuters

Published 10 November 2015

Chilean copper miners are predicted to fulfill half their water needs using desalination plants by 2026.

Chile's copper miners will significantly reduce their dependence on scarce freshwater over the next decade, according to a government sponsored report released Tuesday.

By 2026, half of miners' water needs will be covered by the ocean, Chile's state copper commission Cochilco concluded in a new study.

RELATED: Is Climate Change Leading to Floods, Droughts in Chile?

The study attributed the shift in water use to the development of desalination plants by mining companies, many of which operate in Chile's parched northern deserts.

"It is important that seawater be used more in production processes, and to that end miners are increasingly building their own desalination plants to address freshwater shortages to the extent that this is both technically and economically feasible," said Mining Minister Aurora Williams, according to Reuters.

Much of Chile's north is comprised of the Atacama Desert, the driest non-polar desert in the world. Average annual rainfall is around 15 millimeters, making freshwater a scarce resource. Mining is one of the region's most lucrative industries and traditionally one of the most water intensive.

RELATED: Chilean Miners Launch Fresh Wave of Protests

According to the Cochilco report, by 2026 copper miners will be using 10.7 cubic meters of seawater per second—quadruple the amount estimated for 2015.

Comparatively, the report concluded freshwater use will by 2026 sit at 10.8 cubic meters.

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