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Landscape-Scale Mining and Water Management in a Hyper-Arid Catchment: The Cuajone Mine, Moquegua, Southern Peru

Hunter, M, Perera, DHN, Barnes, EPG, Lepage, HV, Escobedo-Pacheco, E, Idros, N, Arvidsson-Shukur, DRM, Newton, PJ, De Los Santos Valladares, L, Byrne, P and Barnes, CHW (2024) Landscape-Scale Mining and Water Management in a Hyper-Arid Catchment: The Cuajone Mine, Moquegua, Southern Peru. Water, 16 (5). ISSN 2073-4441

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The expansion of copper mining on the hyper-arid pacific slope of Southern Peru has precipitated growing concern for scarce water resources in the region. Located in the headwaters of the Torata river, in the department of Moquegua, the Cuajone mine, owned by Southern Copper, provides a unique opportunity in a little-studied region to examine the relative impact of the landscape-scale mining on water resources in the region. Principal component and cluster analyses of the water chemistry data from 16 sites, collected over three seasons during 2017 and 2018, show distinct statistical groupings indicating that, above the settlement of Torata, water geochemistry is a function of chemical weathering processes acting upon underlying geological units, and confirming that the Cuajone mine does not significantly affect water quality in the Torata river. Impact mitigation strategies that firstly divert channel flow around the mine and secondly divert mine waste to the Toquepala river and tailings dam at Quebrada Honda remove the direct effects on the water quality in the Torata river for the foreseeable future. In the study area, our results further suggest that water quality has been more significantly impacted by urban effluents and agricultural runoff than the Cuajone mine. The increase in total dissolved solids in the waters of the lower catchment reflects the cumulative addition of dissolved ions through chemical weathering of the underlying geological units, supplemented by rapid recharge of surface waters contaminated by residues associated with agricultural and urban runoff through the porous alluvial aquifer. Concentrations in some of the major ions exceeded internationally recommended maxima for agricultural use, especially in the coastal region. Occasionally, arsenic and manganese contamination also reached unsafe levels for domestic consumption. In the lower catchment, below the Cuajone mine, data and multivariate analyses point to urban effluents and agricultural runoff rather than weathering of exposed rock units, natural or otherwise, as the main cause of contamination.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Divisions: Biological & Environmental Sciences (from Sep 19)
Publisher: MDPI AG
SWORD Depositor: A Symplectic
Date Deposited: 18 Mar 2024 16:59
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2024 17:00
DOI or ID number: 10.3390/w16050769
Editors: Barnes, CHW
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/22836
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