Water Resources in Australian Mine Pit Lakes
Faculty of Computing, Health and Science
School of Natural Sciences / Centre for Ecosystem Management
In Australia and worldwide, open cut mining has become increasingly common over the last few decades through changes in excavation technology and ore economics. However, such operations frequently leave a legacy of open mine pits once mining ceases. Pit lakes will then form in mine pits that extend below the water table when dewatering operations cease. Pit lake waters are typically contaminated with metals, metalloids, saline or acidic/alkaline and rarely approach natural water body chemistry. Physically, pit lakes have unique bathymetries, are often strongly wind sheltered and have very small catchments. Nevertheless, pit lake waters often constitute a vast resource but of limited beneficial use (due to water quality issues); with a potential to contaminate regional surface and ground water resources. Water in pit lakes has the potential to be useful for a range of purposes in the Australian context of characteristic hot, dry climate and relatively few natural water bodies. Consequently, pit lakes can be seen to represent either a significant liability or a water resource to mining companies and regional communities. However, the lack of knowledge on pit lakes continues to hinder their proper management. This paper summarises the limited information currently available on water quality associated with Australian pit lakes. Information on pit lake occurrence, distribution and water quantity and quality is not nationally collated and requires immediate and ongoing attention from both mining companies and regulating authorities. Lack of a readily available database for pit lake occurrence, distribution and water quality fails to realise the potential for these water resources by both mining companies and Australian communities. Lack of access to pit lake quantity and water quality data may also lead to failure to manage this significant source of mining environmental risk.