The city of Oruro has a population of more than 200,000 people and has estimated drinking water resources for just 10 to 30 more years. The mine does not only threaten the local population but also the conservation of fauna and flora in the area. The Kori Chaca lies in an endorheic basin; as a result the groundwater, surface water and the substances that end up in the water do not run to the sea. Instead the pollution contaminates the Desaguadero River flowing into the Uru Uru and Poopo lakes. Both lakes are internationally protected areas listed in the Ramsar Convention because of the marshlands and water birds such as the Andes and Chilean flamingo.
Ever year the mine uses 684,000 cubic metres of water. On a daily basis 1,800 cubic metres of water are used to make a cyanide solution. To cater to this immense demand for water, the company has constructed numerous water reservoirs, resulting in an alteration of the Desaguadero River’s path. The use of cyanide is a huge problem in itself. Since the beginning of the excavations an estimated 4,600 tons of cyanide have been used. In past years numerous environmental incidents have been reported, one of which was an oil and cyanide spill. However this is not the last of the problems; salination is a very acute threat to the environment. The area already has a naturally high level of salination, but there is a proven link between the mining activities and the rising salination level.
The locals have had no say in this project. It is ever so clear that the exploitation of gold holds great risks both for the people and the environment. The locals were outraged and decided to press charges. The 80 farmer communities affected by the mining activities, have united to form the CORIDUP and have been supported by CEPA since 2006, which is a partner of Catapa in Oruro. CEPA and CORIDUP have organized actions to battle the environmental problems in the river basin and to protect the unique Altiplano ecosystem.
In 2005 the American gold giant Newmont Mining started exploitation of the Kori Chaca goldmine via an affiliate company Empresa Minera Inti Raymi S.A. (EMIRSA) five kilometres west of the Oruro city. This was a second gold mining project for Newmont and EMIRSA; after years of gold mining in the Kori Kollo northwest of Oruro. Until 2009 the Kori Chaca was managed by a joint venture between the American Newmont Mining Corporation (88%) and the Compania Procesadora de Minerales S.A (“CPM” 12%). In 2009 Newmont sold its shares and EMIRSA was fully in the hands of the privately owned Bolivian company CPM. The mine is at an altitude of 3,700 metres and the river basin of the Desaguadero River connects it to the Uru Uru and Poopo lakes. In the river basin alone there are already 300 small and large mining projects.
This mine is an open pit mine where only oxide ore is mined. During the Kori Chaca mining operation a pit was dug to a depth of 76 metres. The groundwater flowing into the pit is pumped out and brought to three evaporation and infiltration lagoons. In this way 15 to 20,000 tons of minerals are processed every day and a whole array of materials are needed such as cyanide sodium, and hydroxide sodium, lime, hydrochloric acid, activated carbon, diesel, and, of course, water.
26.3 million tons of ore and large quantities of waste are created as a result of these mining activities.