Rio Tinto Kennecott’s commitment to water management: A look inside water usage at the concentrator

In the arid west where Utah is the nation’s second driest state, water is an important natural resource. At Rio Tinto Kennecott, water is necessary in every stage of our operation and business: for exploration, mining, concentrating, smelting, refining, and power generation. We understand the importance of water optimization and conservation, and are committed to protecting water resources in and around our operations.

Kennecott has designed a comprehensive water system to be efficient, sustainable and responsible. Our water system is complex, with miles of pipes and associated infrastructure that move water up to 17 miles from one facility to another. Water enters Kennecott’s footprint through precipitation, natural springs, surface water and groundwater from the mining process. This water is then recycled, impounded or discharged. More than 90 percent of the water we use in our operation is not drinkable water. Less than 10 percent of the water we use is culinary quality. 

Kennecott Water System

Our approach to align day-to-day production with long-term planning for our water resources includes:

  • Minimizing the amount of new, clean water required for copper production operations by recycling.
  • Continuously seeking opportunities to more efficiently use our water.
  • Separating waters of different quality to optimize the best use.

The Kennecott concentrator is a good example of minimizing the amount of new, clean water required for our operation by recycling. The concentrator is where the second step of our production process happens. Concentrating is the process of separating and gathering the valuable minerals from the ore mined. 

Flotation Cells

A look at the flotation cells inside the concentrator where we separate out valuable minerals from the mined ore and create liquid concentrate, which is approximately 26 percent copper at this stage of the production process.

At the concentrator, fresh water is used only in processes requiring it and poor-quality water is used where appropriate. Water that is used in concentrating is processed through Kennecott’s tailings impoundment and recycled within our operations, when possible. More than 60 percent of the water used during the concentrating process is recycled.

Recycled water comes from our tailings impoundment and North-end operations. The tailings impoundment is designed to protect groundwater, surface water and nearby wetlands from water that has been affected by the mining process. Water that is discharged must meet strict criteria designed to suit the sensitive ecosystem of the lake.

At Kennecott, our employees continually review our water needs to ensure we’re operating responsibly. We closely monitor discharge points, availability and demands to ensure the most efficient use of water.