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Minera Yanacocha operates a complex heap leach gold facility
in the Northern Andes of Peru. Four leach pads and thirteen solution
storage process ponds form an extremely complex system. Distinctly
different wet season and dry season rainfall accumulations present
unique challenges to the process water balance. Minera Yanacocha
operates four excess water treatment facilities which discharge water
to the environment at specific quality standards in order to maintain a
balanced system. Numerous government agencies and non-govern-
ment organizations are involved with the permitting, monitoring and
control of the discharged water. Minera Yanacocha maintains a rela-
tionship with 65 villages and communities, with a population of
approximately 29,000 people and the city of Cajamarca with approx-
imately 100,000 residents. This paper provides a high level review of
the system complexity, the water balance, the excess water treat-
ment facilities and social aspects of solution management.
Minera Yanacocha S.R.L. (MYSRL) is the largest pure gold
mine in the world with 2002 production of 2.29 million gold ounces. At
the writing of this paper, MYSRL still holds this distinction with an
increasing production profile exclusively from heap leach operations.
MYSRL is a partnership venture, owned by Newmont Mining
Corporation (51.35%), Buenaventura (43.65%) and by the
International Finance Corporation (5%). Newmont Mining
Corporation is the operator of the MYSRL operation, located 600 km
(900 km by road) northeast of Lima Peru in the northern Peruvian
Andes, near the city of Cajamarca at an elevation between 3,700 and
4,120 meters above sea level.
By the end of 2002, MYSRL had placed 457 million metric tons
of ore on the leach pads containing more than 16 million troy ounces
of gold. During the foreseeable future, MYSRL will place more than
100 million metric tons per year of ore on existing and expanded
leach pads. Contained in this ore will be more than 3 million troy
ounces of gold each year. Depending on continued exploration suc-
cess and on technical and cost improvements, the MYSRL mine life
will extend into the future while sustaining the current production pro-
The MYSRL operation consists of five open pit mines, one
agglomeration plant and four leach pads. Historically, gold recovery
was obtained through two Merrill Crowe plants. Recently, eleven (11)
carbon-in-column circuits, with a total treatment capacity of 7,000
cubic meters per hour have been installed to draw down the in-
process gold inventory.
There are several challenges in this large and extremely com-
plex heap leach operation. Orebodies, leach pads and production
facilities are dispersed over 125 square kilometers of high elevation
terrain. Process facilities are interconnected and support each other.
The entire operation is constructed along the South American conti-
nental divide, with a presence in four separate and distinct drainage
basins. Distinctly different wet and dry season rainfall occurrences
create challenging design considerations.
MYSRL directly employs up to 2,000, with an additional work
force of up to 6,300 contract and seasonal construction workers. As
such, it is the major employer in the Cajamarca region and a major
contributor to the local and national economies of Peru. In fact, in
2002, precious metal produced by MYSRL accounted for 9% of
Peru’s exports. For 2003, this figure is expected to grow to 12%. With
a total cash cost of $125 per troy ounce of gold (2002 costs), MYSRL
is one of the lowest cost and most efficient gold producers in the
Minera Yanacocha operates in a very challenging climate.
There are distinct wet and dry seasons, which require continual mon-
itoring and forecasting to maintain water balance integrity and envi-
ronmental compliance. The MYSRL site receives from zero to nearly
350 millimeters of rainfall per month (Figure 1). On an annual basis,
the MYSRL site routinely receives 1.1 to 1.6 meters of rain, with a
statistical probability as high as 3 meters of rain – the majority of this
rainfall accumulates in an 8-month period from September to April.
Large quantities of fresh water accumulation occur in a short time
period when direct rainfall enters the 6,000,000 square meters of
lined pad area. This must be coupled with the fact that the leach pad
operation is in constant growth, creating an ever increasing lined
area from which to collect rainfall.
The quantity of rainfall collected has grown steadily through the
life of the operation, and will continue to grow as leach pad expan-
sion occurs. From MYSRL startup in 1993, the scant 31,000 cubic
meters of water collected from rainfall in all of 1994 has grown to 7
million cubic meters in 2003 (225 times more water collected in 2003
than in 1994). It is forecasted that in the month of March 2004, more
than 1.4 million cubic meters of rainwater will be added to the system
(Figure 2) and nearly 13 million cubic meters of rainfall per year will
be added to the system before the end of mine life (Figure 3).
Obviously, MYSRL is very interested in this information and takes
great care to assure that the water balance of the system is properly
maintained. The water balance affects several factors of the opera-
tion, including gold production (rainwater dilutes leach solution
grade), leach solution application rate (water storage in the pad),
process pond operating levels and most importantly – maintaining
environmental compliance. MYSRL cannot accumulate rainfall within
the containment system indefinitely, and therefore excess water
treatment and discharge are conducted to maintain system balance.
Excess Water Treatment Plants are described in a subsequent sec-
tion of this paper.
SME Annual Meeting
Feb. 23-25, Denver, Colorado
Preprint 04-08
E. D. Seymour
Minera Yanacocha
Cajamarca, Peru
1 Copyright © 2004 by SME
Figure 1. MYSRL Historical and Forecast Rainfall by Month – Average of all Weather Stations
Figure 2. MYSRL Historical and Forecast Rain Water Accumulation by Month
SME Annual Meeting
Feb. 23-25, Denver, Colorado
2 Copyright © 2004 by SME
MYSRL is using a Life-Of-Mine (LOM) water balance to deter-
mine the important components of the system – including water treat-
ment requirements, pumping capacity and process pond size. The
water balance model is owned and operated by a third-party contrac-
tor. It is updated and computed on a semi-annual basis with input by
MYSRL personnel. The most important model input parameters are:
Historical Rainfall Data: Historical and current data from four
weather stations across the mine site is correlated with longer-term
historical weather data from a nearby weather station.
Evaporation Data: A theoretical model has been developed that
correlates temperature, wind speed and direction, sun position and
other important factors. This data has been compared with actual
evaporation data from the weather stations to ensure model accura-
Loading Plans: The monthly mining and leach pad loading
schedule is a very important input, including the tons, location and lift
height. MYSRL operates four different leach pads, each with its own
loading requirements.
Leaching Data: Many leach pad variables are included. The
most important variables include area under leach, area not under
leach, solution application rate, location of leaching areas, fresh
leach solution pumping capacity and recycle pumping capacity that
allows for storage of water in dry areas. Typically, there are 1.2 mil-
lion square meters under leach at any time. Ore is leached with a
mixture of fresh barren solution (38%) and recycle solutions (62%).
Pad-Specific Parameters: Solution transport rate through the
pad (modeled separately for rainwater and leach solutions), drainage
volume accumulated from old leach areas and new lined areas are all
input parameters. In addition, the entire leach pad and process pond
system is inter-connected. Therefore, interconnection solution trans-
fer capacities become another critical input.
Ore-Specific Parameters: Ore moisture content is very impor-
tant to the water balance, as the run-of-mine and agglomerated ore
“as-placed” and “drain-down” moistures are modeled separately. In
addition, each geologic ore type has its own “wetting” and bulk den-
sity characteristics. Laboratory column tests were performed to
understand the moisture content by geological ore type and periodic
field tests are completed to verify the results. The water balance esti-
mates that there are 21 million cubic meters of water contained in the
leach pad and containment systems at any time.
Water Treatment Capacity: The productivity and efficiency of the
existing and anticipated water treatment plants are very important
inputs. Each year, new technologies and/or new operating practices
make the water treatment plants more efficient and more effective.
Similarly, changing environmental discharge standards can affect
anticipated plant productivity.
Water Storage Capacity: There are thirteen process ponds
throughout the MYSRL site that are designed for leach solution stor-
age. Eight of these ponds (total of 588,000 cubic meters) are triple-
lined with HDPE and designed for operation while the others (total of
1.437 million cubic meters) are double-lined with HDPE and are
designed for storm water storage. The ‘operation’ ponds have the
ability to contain less than 3%, and the total process pond capacity
will contain less than 10% of all the water in the system.
Lined Areas: There are currently more than 6 million square
meters of HDPE lined area that collects storm water. This number is
expected to grow to 9.3 million square meters before the end of mine
The LOM water balance is particularly useful in determining
process pond storage and excess water treatment requirements. It
provides a forecasting tool to allow MYSRL management to plan
future capital and operating expenses. The LOM water balance is
based on 24-hour, 100-year storm event design criteria (173 mm rain
in 24 hours), coupled with an eight-hour drain-down due to power fail-
ures. A statistical 1% chance of exceedance is defined as the toler-
ance for risk. Because the water balance is such a critical planning
tool, and because it can never model the water system with 100%
accuracy, the most conservative data is input to the model. This
ensures a contingency in the treatment plant capacity and a contin-
gency above and beyond the extensive environmental protection
plans in place on a daily basis.
SME Annual Meeting
Feb. 23-25, Denver, Colorado
3 Copyright © 2004 by SME
1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Figure 3. Annual Water Accumulation From Routine Rain Events
Figure 4. Excess Water Treatment Requirements
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4 Copyright © 2004 by SME
The LOM water balance is a long-term planning tool, and there-
fore is not useful in the day-to-day operation of the facility. It cannot
predict the treatment/storage requirements from any particular storm
event. MYSRL developed a predictive daily water balance tool, which
includes all the input data listed above, with the ability to modify data
in real time. There are approximately fifty variables that can be mod-
ified, including current and actual weather data, actual plant efficien-
cies, current process pond volumes, current solution interconnection
transfer rates, etc. Certain variables, such as leach pad loading
plans, pad geometry and future rainfall cannot be modified. The daily
water balance allows MYSRL staff to review current weather condi-
tions and leach pad status, and predict water treatment and storage
requirements for the following 60 days. This is extremely useful in
short-term operation and planning. As stated previously, the majority
of the rainfall occurs in an eight-month window. As a result, it is
important for the excess water treatment plants to operate at 100%
availability during this time. Maintenance downtime must be careful-
ly planned and scheduled to occur outside the window of high sea-
sonal rainfall.
MYSRL currently operates four excess water treatment plants
(EWTP’s). The total treatment capacity is 1,900 cubic meters per
hour, utilizing three plants, each with a design capacity of 500 cubic
meters per hour, and one plant that has a design capacity of 400
cubic meters per hour. On average, MYSRL is able to operate the
plants up to 10% above the design capacity while still maintaining the
required discharge water quality.
Merrill Crowe precipitation is the primary MYSRL gold recovery
circuit, and is therefore seen as the first stage of water treatment.
Changing operating conditions within the Merrill Crowe plants create
changing barren solution water chemistry, and some variability in the
actual treatment rates. As mentioned previously, the excess water
treatment plants operate on a seasonal basis – roughly eight months
each year. Figure 4 details the total treated water since the startup of
MYSRL operations in 1993, and the forecast treatment requirements.
The MYSRL excess water treatment plant is very straightfor-
ward, and consists of four unit operations – cyanide destruction, mer-
cury removal, arsenic/metal removal and solid/liquid separation (illus-
trated in Figure 5). Chlorine gas is used to destroy cyanide (in the
presence of lime maintaining pH=10), sodium hydrosulfide (NaSH) is
used to precipitate mercury, ferric chloride is used to precipitate
arsenic and other metals, and a clarifier-reactor is used to effect the
solid/liquid separation. Clean water is discharged to the environment,
while sludge that is generated from this process is returned to the
leach pads for permanent storage.
All excess water treatment plants discharge to a common loca-
tion – a blending pond. The blending pond allows for one or more of
the treatment plants to be slightly out of spec in discharge water qual-
ity. A mass balance is continuously calculated to ensure that the
blending pond water quality and production from the other treatment
plants are capable to buffer the treatment plant stream that may be
out of discharge specifications. The blending pond can be operated
at four different discharge levels. It allows treated streams to bypass
the blending pond and it allows for the return of waters to the leach
process which do not meet discharge standards. With these built-in
flexibilities, the blending pond allows MYSRL to discharge the maxi-
mum amount of water each wet season, avoiding re-treatment and
ensuring compliance with environmental discharge standards.
Staffing of the excess water treatment plants is also very
straightforward. Two water treatment plants require one operator and
two assistants. Typically, the operator is in complete control of the
treatment process, while the assistants prepare reagents and collect
water quality samples.
MYSRL employs the use of an on-site Quality Assurance water
laboratory to ensure discharge water quality standards are achieved.
The laboratory is operated by the MYSRL Environmental Department
to ensure accuracy, transparency and third-party verification. It is the
responsibility of this laboratory to permit the water treatment plants to
discharge treated water utilizing detailed sampling protocols that
require collection of samples every thirty minutes throughout the
plants. Every sample is rigorously analyzed to ensure discharge
waters meet standards. If an unacceptable trend begins to develop,
plant operators are informed and adjustments are made. If water
quality does not meet the required specifications, discharge direct to
the environment is not allowed, and the plant may recycle the treat-
ed water back into the system and re-treat as needed or discharge
the treated water to the blending pond if the mass balance of the
blending pond allows.
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Figure 5. Typical Excess Water Treatment Plant – Simplified Flow Diagram
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Table I summarizes the reagents used in the MYSRL EWTP
process. For safety and environmental protection reasons, all
reagents are shipped to the MYSRL property in convoys. Each con-
voy includes police escort and hazardous response equipment and
Cost of water treatment is obviously important to MYSRL. The
cost of EWTP in 2002 is detailed in Table II.
EWTP operation is important to the overall success of MYSRL.
For example, MYSRL must treat enough water in the wet season to
ensure proper process pond levels, and be careful to not over-treat
at the end of the wet season to ensure sufficient water is available for
dry season make-up water requirements, always trying to balance
costs. Over-treatment at the end of the wet season does not only cost
more money in EWTP operations – it may create a condition where-
by MYSRL is forced to pump ground water to sustain the process,
which costs additional operating dollars and can have negative
impacts to regional groundwater users. Additionally, if process pond
levels are too high at the end of the dry season, there can be an
impact to the startup timing and production efficiency requirements of
EWTP at a very critical time of year.
Besides the usual efforts to optimize the circuits, MYSRL is in
the process of upgrading the EWTP using automated control.
Reagent addition will be automated, based primarily on pH, oxida-
tion-reduction potential, flow, cyanide and mercury levels. On-line
instruments to measure WAD cyanide and mercury are in the devel-
opmental phases. Existing instruments are being upgraded and prop-
erly maintained. Control loops are being developed and control logic
is being tuned as needed. In 2003, a 27% reduction in chlorine usage
has been realized through better use of pH and ORP instruments.
SME Annual Meeting
Feb. 23-25, Denver, Colorado
7 Copyright © 2004 by SME
Newmont Mining Corporation, the operator of MYSRL has
embarked on a road towards transformation with the merger of
Newmont, Normandy and Franco Nevada. Newmont and MYSRL
recognize the importance of working within a society that has differ-
ent needs and values than the mining company. Newmont’s vision is
to “Create Value with Every Ounce”. This vision includes creating
value not only for the company and the shareholders, but also for the
communities in which the company works. In this regard, the vision
requires leadership in the field of safety, stewardship of the environ-
ment and social responsibility. Without guiding principles and behav-
iors, the Vision is only a set of words. The MYSRL site works under
the following guiding principles:
• Each employee is responsible for his or her own safety,
and for those around them.
• MYSRL works with the environment and its neighbors,
not against them. This is evidenced in everything that is
• MYSRL employees are ambassadors for the company
in all settings and all locations.
• MYSRL employees tell their children, and their commu-
nity about what they do and what they do well.
• MYSRL employees act positively against threats that
would destroy the industry.
The transformation at MYSRL requires the acceptance of per-
sonal responsibility and commitment from every MYSRL employee
and contractor. The future of MYSRL and the future of mining in Peru
depend on every MYSRL employee doing well with these guiding
With these guiding principles as the basis, Newmont and
MYSRL are attempting to operate in a socially responsible manner
which can be defined as “The acceptance and belief by society, and
specifically our local communities, in the value creation of our activi-
ties, such that we are allowed to access and extract mineral
resources.” Social Responsibility can only be earned through behav-
iors and actions based on the previously mentioned guiding princi-
Why does MYSRL want to operate in a socially responsible
manner? In the most basic terms, it is the right thing to do. More
specifically, it is important to balance legal requirements against
expectations of the community – often they are not the same (the
community usually expects more than the law provides). There are
many examples of mining companies working with communities to
create synergies – opportunities are created for all. Unfortunately,
there are many more examples of mining companies who do not
work with the communities and are no longer operating at that loca-
tion – opportunities are lost for all.
With sound social responsibility in place, start-up, expansion
and closure can proceed with fewer disruptions, fewer legal actions
and less statutory risk. The net result is lower operating costs, high-
er capital productivity and a positive reputation for the mining compa-
ny and the mining industry. For the employee, there is improved
industry, company and job sustainability. The employee can feel
pride in their safe working environment, as well as being a productive
member of the community. In short, long-term survival depends on
how miners are accepted into the communities in which they work.
There are three primary factors that either guarantee or threat-
en MYSRL’s ability to operate. These include the PERCEPTION ver-
sus the REALITY of:
• The way MYSRL manages the environment.
• The relationship between MYSRL and the communities.
• The way MYSRL values and manages the employees,
including their health and safety.
These relationships can be extremely fragile. They should never
be taken for granted. They require diligent nurturing with disciplined
people, disciplined thought and disciplined action.
MYSRL incorporates many Peruvian government and non-gov-
ernment organizations in its social responsibility model:
Ministry of Energy and Mines This government organization reg-
ulates the quality of mining effluents. Water quality is permitted
according to the standards of this organization. Routine samples are
collected and analyzed. Results are shared with the municipality of
Cajamarca and the International Finance Corporation.
Ministry of Agriculture This government organization regulates
water use by all users in a drainage basin. Drainage and canal waters
are legally defined for agricultural use, including irrigation and live-
stock. This organization does not have official water quality stan-
dards, although they do recognize Peruvian general water law stan-
Ministry of Health This government organization regulates the
quality of water discharged from the mine site in terms of the receiv-
ing water quality. The idea is to ensure there are no negative impacts
to the receiving water quality. Water is permitted according to Class
III environmental quality standards for agricultural use, including irri-
gation and livestock.
International Finance Corporation (IFC) This non-government
organization has a 5% equity interest in MYSRL, and provides financ-
ing to MYSRL. The IFC maintains its own list of guidelines for mining
effluents. As a result of the financing with the IFC, MYSRL has cer-
tain contractual obligations to meet the IFC’s environmental compli-
ance requirements.
Servicios de Saneamiento de Cajamarca (SEDACAJ) This com-
pany operates the potable water treatment plant for the municipality
of Cajamarca. This treatment plant is located on one of the primary
drainage basins below the MYSRL property. It takes stream flow from
the Rio Grande - a river that originates on the MYSRL property.
Periodic sampling of the Rio Grande ensures confidence in the water
Comision de Monitoreo de Canales (COMOCA) This non-gov-
ernment organization is composed of users of the 16 irrigation canals
that either start on or traverse the MYSRL property. This organization
is concerned with user’s water rights as well as quantity and quality
of canal water. Monthly, every canal is sampled by COMOCA mem-
bers. MYSRL pays for the analyses at a third-party laboratory, which
has been approved by COMOCA members. Analyses include metals,
cyanide, nitrate, pH, etc. Results are provided to all members for
SME Annual Meeting
Feb. 23-25, Denver, Colorado
8 Copyright © 2004 by SME
Newmont Mining Corporation As 51.35% owner, and operator of
MYSRL, the Newmont corporate standards must always be followed.
The official Newmont policy is two-fold. First, MYSRL must comply
with all legal standards. Second, MYSRL must protect human health
and the environment. To ensure compliance with these standards,
MYSRL chooses to comply with the most stringent water quality stan-
dards and guidelines of all the regulating organizations. There are
continual efforts to determine watershed depletion and inter-basin
drainage impacts.
Minera Yanacocha operates on the South American continental
divide. Surrounding the property are four distinctly different drainage
basins – three basins report to the Amazon hydrologic basin and ulti-
mately to the Atlantic Ocean, while the fourth reports to the Pacific
In total, there are 65 communities and villages with more than
10,000 families (over 29,000 inhabitants) living directly downstream
of the mine in all directions. These families have worked these lands
for hundreds of years. Like their ancestors, they are dependent on
water for their very existence.
Besides the natural drainage basins and creeks that supply
water to these populations, there are a number of community irriga-
tion canals established along the valley walls. In some cases, these
community canals, some as old as 100 years, transport water
between hydrologic basins. On the MYSRL property, there are cur-
rently sixteen community canals that provide primary water sources
for 2,500 families (agricultural use primarily). MYSRL takes extra pre-
cautions to ensure the communities receive the proper water quality
and quantity whenever a canal is impacted by mining activities.
MYSRL maintains a community relations group within the
External Affairs Department, which is responsible to ensure that com-
munities are properly consulted prior to a canal being impacted by
mine operations. With a multi-million dollar annual budget, it is the
community relations group that consults with the communities to
negotiate canal impacts, water rights and mitigation as required. The
annual budget is primarily used to support sustainable development
initiatives with the surrounding communities as well as mitigate canal
related impacts, which may result from operations. In addition, the
MYSRL External Relations Department has an active community tour
program, which conducts visits to the excess water treatment plants
where visitors are provided a technical description of the plant and its
operation. To demonstrate water quality, visitors are encouraged to
physically sample (consume) treated water at the plant outflow.
The Minera Yanacocha property is extremely large, complex
and growing. With distinctly different wet and dry seasons, four
expanding leach pads and thirteen process solution storage ponds,
water balance modeling, planning and excellent community relations
are all critical to success.
An accurate water balance affects all aspects of the process,
including gold production rate, leach solution application rate,
process pond operating levels and protection against environmental
release. Life-of-Mine water balances are modeled to ensure sufficient
excess water treatment capacity, while a short-term water balance is
used to make day-to-day process decisions. As with any heap leach
operation, the main issues that affect the water balance are process
pond size, number of process ponds, amount of area lined with geo-
membrane (current and future), total water in the system compared
to storage capacity, and perhaps the most important parameter –
water discharge standards that are protective of human health and
the environment.
Proficient operation of the excess water treatment plants
(EWTP’s) cannot be overemphasized. Variations in the Merrill Crowe
effluent have immediate operational effects on the EWTP process.
The implementation of automated control helps to reduce this effect,
but some manual operation will always be required to ensure compli-
ance. EWTP operational timing (seasonal startup and shutdown) can
seriously affect the cost structure of MYSRL. Too much water treat-
ed results in increased and unnecessary costs, while too little water
treated may increase potential process pond storage risks. The diffi-
culty is balancing the risk with the potential opportunity.
Minera Yanacocha recognizes that their activities and presence
create both positive and negative impacts to the local population and
way of life. In an area where the local population has a 33% literacy
rate, and only 50% to 85% of the homes in any community have
latrine facilities, MYSRL assists the communities in improving their
quality of life. These partnerships represent the positive examples of
how a mining company and a community can work together to man-
age the needs of all.
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Feb. 23-25, Denver, Colorado
9 Copyright © 2004 by SME