A gold mine can use up to 10,000 litres of water per mined gram of pure gold. Gold mining is hence considered as the biggest water polluting mining variety. The presence of mines negatively affects areas that already suffer from water shortages. Due to the very high water consumption, the level of the groundwater will further decline, leading to the desiccation of the environment and the salinization of the soil. Water scarcity is a common outcome of mining. This negative effect is problematic, since it poses a serious threat to one of the primary needs of the local population. Desiccation is the logical consequence of the lack of sufficient water in the soil and makes it impossible to cultivate crops.
Soil salinization is the phenomenon that becomes apparent when the soil is marked by a bigger influx than loss of salt. Before the intrusion of the mines, there used to be sufficient water to drain the salt out of the soil. Nowadays, however, the salt remains on the agricultural and cattle grounds due to its oversupply, leading to disastrous consequences for the local agricultural development.
The pollution of the drinking and agricultural water is so substantial, that it severely affects the health of the local population. The groundwater in agricultural areas is polluted to such an extent that the harvests are poisoned. It consequently becomes almost impossible for the inhabitants of the rural areas (who usually depend on the incomes generated by the local agriculture), to support themselves by means of local farmer activities. Besides, ground water is also commonly used for cooking, drinking, washing and bathing. Studies have indicated that poisoned groundwater leads to several complaints, such as cancer, skin diseases and congenital anomalies. These physical complaints happen to occur more frequently in the presence of mining industries. The affectation of natural resources increases the vulnerability of the inhabitants of the surrounding communities and destroys the ecosystem. Other mining methods also discharge chemicals and heavy metals in the groundwater, which affects the environment within a radius of several kilometres.
The stories about leaking dams and wastewater lakes, which should keep the wastewater of the mines out of free circulation, are numerous. Such stories do not only rise from developmental areas. In 2000, for instance, the tailings dam of the Baia Mare goldmine in Romania leaked over 100,000 tons of toxic water including cyanide and heavy metals in the Tisza River. In this way, the drinking water supply of 2.5 million people was seriously polluted and 80 percent of all living organisms in the river were eradicated. The cyanide cloud spread out in a circle of about 1500 kilometres.