MAC: Mines and Communities

The MidWeek Essay: Waging Water War in Peru

Published by MAC on 2020-07-21

In Colombia too

Although the Anglo American (AAC) quasi-Annual General Meeeting occurred more than two months ago, London Mining Network has just issued a critique of the British company's responses to statements made on-line. We hope you'll find this assessment enlightening and well argued. It lucidly explains the true nature of maintaining a "water balance" in a desert ecosystem such as exists in Peru, where AAC is going forward with its Quellaveco Copper mine.

Among other accusations, AAC is charged with flagrantly downplaying (or at least ignoring) major water losses caused by its operations, when it argues that they have no agricultural or domestic use.

The essay, based upon findings by the Peruvian human rights and environmental group DHUMA, draws comparisons between Quellaveco and Colombia's province of La Guajira, where AAC, along with Glencore and BHP, are attempting to divert a river to make way for  expansion of Latin America's largest coal mine, Cerrejon.

It concludes with telling observations of how the company seeks to benefit from Cofid-19 in Peru and repressive government measures imposed against its people.

 

 

Critique of Anglo American’s AGM responses to questions on Peru, Colombia

London Mining Network

17 July 2020

Mining multinational Anglo American held its AGM behind closed doors on 5
May. Many questions were submitted to the company, and it published its
responses promptly after the AGM. Many of those responses left a great
deal to be desired. Below is a critique of the company’s responses to
questions about its operations in Peru.

General critique of Anglo American AGM 2020 responses

By TerraJusta / Derechos humanos y Medio Ambiente – DHUMA Perú

On water consumption and hydrological imbalance

One of the main observations regarding the Quellaveco project has to do
with the high water consumption that the operation projects (22 million m3
of freshwater per year). Added to this are the potential impacts that the
construction of the project and the extraction of water for its operations
could have on the hydrological balance of the region.

The observations on the first Environmental Impact Study of Quellaveco
carried out by the Hydrogeologist Robert Moran (2002)(1), suggest
reviewing the water situation of the region in a comprehensive way because
the region belongs to a desert ecosystem. Also extraction of water for
mining activity involves turning water into a non-renewable resource which
is then overexploited and contaminated, preventing its regeneration.

Anglo American affirms that the Quellaveco project has in mind the use of
“surplus water from the Tambo basin in rainy weather.” The company argues
that these waters have no agricultural or domestic use and that each year
more than 500 million m3 of water are “lost” in the ocean. However,
arguing that “these waters have no use” is an absolutely arbitrary
statement that ignores the basic concepts of hydrological cycles. It is
important to point out that the “water cycle does not have a beginning and
an end” and that surface water courses and their runoff or surpluses in
rainy weather fulfill a series of environmental services, such as
recharging underground aquifers and regenerating natural flora, among
several others.

“The water that is on or very close to the soil surface evaporates under
the effect of solar radiation and wind. Water vapor, which is formed in
this way, rises and is transported through the atmosphere in the form of
clouds until it condenses and falls towards the earth in the form of
precipitation. During its journey to the surface of the earth, the
precipitated water can evaporate again or be intercepted by plants, then
it flows through the surface to streams or infiltrates the ground. Of the
infiltrated water, a part is absorbed by the plants and is later
transpired, almost entirely, into the atmosphere. Another part flows under
the surface of the earth towards streams, the sea or other bodies of
water, or to areas deep in the ground to be stored as groundwater and then
emerge in springs, rivers or the sea.(2)”

What this paragraph describes is the natural process of interactions
between nature and living beings, a relationship that is belittled by
Anglo American when it states that this water is simply “lost in the sea”.

This statement is typical of those whose vision of hydrological processes
is focused primarily on economic needs, leaving aside the social and
environmental needs present in the area.

It is important to point out that the fresh water that comes from the
rivers to the sea fulfills a function, because it is part of the natural
process known as the “water cycle”. In this sense, the discharge of these
waters into the ocean is extremely important, because: (a) it contributes
nutrients and consequently to the preservation of coastal biodiversity,
(b) it preserves the geography of estuaries and fjords, and (c) it
maintains the normal functioning of ecosystems through the circulation of
brackish and seawater(3).

The impact of the future extraction of water from the rivers that flow
into the sea by Quellaveco requires a comprehensive evaluation, in which
both social and natural needs are taken into account. An “ecological flow”
must be established, which ensures a sufficient amount of water in the
flows for the correct functioning of ecosystems, the preservation of
biological resources and biodiversity, the sufficient supply of nutrients,
the dilution of pollutants, the decrease of the impacts caused by extreme
events and the preservation of the landscape. In this sense, studies of
water resources should be prioritized at the regional level by independent
researchers who help determine “ecological flows” and other pertinent
studies.

A mercantile vision of water and its excessive use for mining derives in
what Harvey (2005) considers as “accumulation by dispossession”, to the
detriment of communities and local ecosystems. In the words of Moran
(2015), water is being “undermined” in the sense of making it a
non-renewable resource, which is overexploited beyond its capacity for
natural recharge and regeneration. Given this reality, it is necessary to
ask ourselves: what will be the long-term impact of the mining use of
these waters on the local ecosystem? What is the value of fresh water
“that nobody uses” and that Anglo American will use to exploit Quellaveco?

Perhaps Anglo American should pay for the use of this water to the
Peruvian State and to the farming communities that depend on rainfall and
underground and surface water courses, as an act of social responsibility
and commitment to the environment.

Finally, it must be made clear that Anglo American’s assertion that the
Vizcachas dam “will maintain water levels” in the Tambo river basin and
that it will even “improve its quality” is to deny that the construction
of a dam and the diversion of a river cause environmental impacts in this
region where the driest desert in Peru is located. At first glance it is
inconsistent and does not take into account the water shortage that
already exists in the region; it also casts doubt on the rigour of the
data obtained as part of the “Quellaveco” project, whose presentation is
once again misleading, very optimistic and clearly biased in showing that
no significant impacts will occur.

Even the Peruvian Ombudsman has issued warnings and identified the
situation in the region and the future impacts of the Quellaveco project
as a source of possible conflict, since it could exacerbate the scarcity
of water resources in the Tambo river basin. This means that as
Quellaveco’s start date of operations approaches, this conflict could
arise. The company should take these warnings into account.

Regarding the deviation of the Asana River

Anglo American’s explanation regarding the diversion of the Asana River
does none other than demonstrate once again the company’s attempt to
separate, in its management of water, the surface resource from the
subterranean. The company seems to be unaware that underneath a
“superficial basin, there is an underground basin, whose shape is similar
to the superficial one” (Aparicio, 1996). As such we must ask what the
impact will be on the relationship between surface and groundwater as a
consequence of the diversion of the Asana River? We must ask what will
happen to the springs located along the Asana river as a result of the
diversion of its channel? Moran states that there are 5 lagoons in the
surroundings that naturally benefit from the Asana River, and that they
would inevitably be affected by the diversion.

In this sense, it is necessary to promote studies by independent
researchers from the government and grassroots social organizations to
determine with certainty the predictions regarding variations in the
quality and quantity of surface and groundwater produced by the diversion
of the Asana River. The negative impacts on the quantity and quality of
the water in the affected regions and the basins involved must likewise be
determined, as well as simulation scenarios regarding the possible release
of pollutants from tailings.

The diversion of the Asana river seems to respond to what we could call a
pattern of behavior of mining companies that modify nature to make their
projects viable. It must be remembered that a company in which Anglo
American has a stake has already been in charge of diverting a river in
Colombia to expand its coal operations. This is the diversion of the
Arroyo Bruno (4) in La Guajira Colombiana by the Cerrejón company, which
operates the largest open pit coal mine in Latin America. This company is
owned by Glencore and BHP and Anglo American.

Arroyo Bruno is located in a region affected by drought and is the main
tributary of the Rio Rancheria, which constitutes the main source of water
for La Guajira. The health of the river determines the functions of the
surrounding tropical dry forest, one of the most threatened ecosystems in
Colombia.

Cerrejón built an artificial flow to divert the Arroyo by more than 3
kilometers. The idea was to divert the stream through an artificial
channel so that later it meets the natural flow again. Despite the fact
that the company affirms that this engineering work would guarantee the
health of the Arroyo Bruno and the stability of the ecosystem, the
communities that made visits(5) to the stream confirmed that this is not
the case and that the stream is dry, something that has never occurred
before.

In this case, the company has also not investigated the behavior of
groundwater in the Arroyo Bruno basin, nor has it taken into account the
outbreak of water from the fractures of the rocks that feed the stream on
its way. It has been ignored that below the earth layers are the aquifers
that communicate harmoniously and form complex ecosystems. The communities
affirm that a natural channel that has been formed for thousands of years
cannot be replaced with an artificial channel. No engineering work can
replace what took nature centuries to build.

This exercise in altering nature can have long-term consequences. In the
case of Quellaveco, the 8-kilometer tunnel that has been built to divert
the Asana river, modifies the river channel forever and will require
life-long maintenance, something the company does not guarantee. Anglo
American says that the quality and quantity of the river water will be
maintained for domestic and agricultural use by the local population, but
what guarantees or insurance has it offered the population to avoid later
conflicts?

Despite Anglo American’s claims that the inspections carried out under
Participatory Environmental Monitoring for 5 years suggest that Quellaveco
does not have negative effects on the Asana River, mistrust and conflicts
have persisted throughout the years – including those registered at the
end of 2019 – and are still latent.

Covid19 and Mining

During the Covid19 health emergency in Peru, there has been a debate about
activities that are essential and those that can be suspended by
quarantine. In this process, social organizations denounced the benefits
granted mining companies, with not only “essential” maintenance and other
activities running, but the mining production chain remaining active. In
other words exploration, exploitation, transport, commercialization and
even construction of mining projects were allowed to continue. As such,
companies like Anglo American have been working with almost total
normality while the majority of the population has assumed the costs of
quarantine.

In the course of this emergency it has become evident that agriculture and
water are fundamental for the subsistence of the population. The
availability of clean water and the cultivation of food are truly
essential activities. Without water, there is no food or health. Anglo
American, instead of boasting about the contributions of food and medical
equipment that it makes to communities in the absence of the State, should
explore more mechanisms that guarantee that its Quellaveco project does
not affect the availability or future quality of waters from the Asana
rivers and from the surface and underground water sources of the region.
Ensuring clean water is not just about building dams; it is important not
to destroy or pollute existing waters and sources. Anglo American’s
engineering works are very dangerous and can result in environmental
disasters like the ones they have already caused in Colombia.

During the pandemic international reports have identified(6) general
patterns of behavior and how the mining industry has benefited from the
pandemic. Anglo American is no exception. Business in general has
continued to operate normally during the health crisis. They are also
whitewashing their image and using the vulnerability of the population to
show themselves as saviors, distributing food and creating divisions
within populations. Furthermore, people cannot mobilize as a result of
restrictive measures and state repression towards social protests.

In Peru, states of emergency also continue to be decreed along with
militarization of the mining corridor in the Southern Andes where
Moquegua, the site of the Quellaveco project, is located. Moreover, many
governments seek to emerge from the current economic crisis by expanding
and deepening mining extractivism. In the case of Peru, mining has been a
priority activity in recent years and environmental regulations have been
flexibilised to the benefit of mining companies. It’s no surprise that, in
a phase of economic recovery, they will benefit from the deepening of
extractivism – increasing the conflict related to competition for the use
of water between mining companies and communities that need it for human
and agricultural consumption in regions such as Moquegua.

That said, it would be important for Anglo American to state whether it is
willing to provide a guarantee or insurance to the region that it will not
effectively alter the local ecosystem and the availability of water at the
close of its operations. Finally, it is important to point out that it is
not enough to comply with minimum agreements with local communities, nor
is it enough to comply with the lax rules of a government that facilitates
the implementation of extractive activities under the argument of economic
recovery. Our questions have to do with responsibility and respect for the
region’s water sources – a resource whose importance has been underlined
in the current pandemic and will continue to be so in the future.

Notes

1 Moran, R. (2002). QUELLAVECO: ¿Agua libre de costo para la minería en el
desierto más seco del Perú?
2 Aparicio, J. (1996). Fundamentos de la hidrología de superficie. Pág. 17.
3 Masotti, I., Aparicio-Rizzo, P., Yevenes, MA., Garreaud, R., Belmar, L.
and Farías, L. 2018. The Influence of River Discharge on Nutrient Export
and Phytoplankton Biomass Off the Central Chile Coast (33◦–37◦S): Seasonal
Cycle and Interannual Variability. Front. Mar. Sci. 5:423. doi:
10.3389/fmars.2018.00423
4 Free the Bruno River https://youtu.be/HIOH3UJtq18
5 Destrucción del Arroyo Bruno, un crimen contra la naturaleza
https://www.facebook.com/laguajirahabla/videos/388729511825290/?v=388729511825290
6 Voices from the Ground: How the Global Mining Industry is Profiting from
the COVID-19 Pandemic
https://miningwatch.ca/publications/2020/6/2/voices-ground-how-global-mining-industry-profiting-covid-19-pandemic

 

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