Water requirements of the copper industry

Water Supply Paper 1330-E




The copper industry in 1955 used about 330 million gallons of water per day in the mining and manufacturing of primary copper. This amount is about 0.3 percent of the total estimated withdrawals of industrial water in the United States in 1955. These facts were determined by a survey, in 1956, of the amount and chemical quality of the water used by the copper industry.

A large part of this water was used in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah, where about five-sixths of the domestic copper is mined. Much of the remaining water use was near New York City where most of the electrolytic refineries are located, and the rest of the water was used in widely scattered places.

A little more than 100,000 gallons of water per ton of copper was used in the production of copper from domestic ores. Of this amount about 70,000 gallons per ton was used in mining and concentrating the ore, and about 30,000 gallons per ton was used to reduce the concentrate to refined copper. In areas where water was scarce or expensive, the unit water use was a little more than half the average. About 60 mgd (million gallons per day) or 18 percent of the water was used consumptively, and nearly all of the consumptive use occurred in the water-short areas of the West.

Of the water used in mining and manufacturing primary copper 75 percent was surface water and 25 percent was ground water, 89 percent of this water was self-supplied by the copper companies and 11 percent came from public supplies.

Much of the water used in producing primary copper was of comparatively poor quality; about 46 percent was saline containing 1,000 ppm (parts per million) or more of dissolved solids and 54 percent was fresh. Water that is used for concentration of copper ores by flotation or even any water that comes in contact with the ore at any time before it reaches the flotation plant must be free of petroleum products because they interfere with the flotation process. The water used in mining and ore concentration was higher in dissolved solids and was harder than the water used in smelting and refining. Water used in mining and ore concentration had a median dissolved solids content of about 400 ppm and a median hardness (as CaCO3) of about 200 ppm. The median values for water used in smelting and refining were only half these amounts.

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USGS Numbered Series
Water requirements of the copper industry
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Water Supply Paper
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U.S. Government Printing Office
iv,39 p.
Larger Work Title:
Water requirements of selected industries
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