As part of the commitments undertaken by the company under the project “Changes and Improvements to Mining Operations in the Salar de Atacama,” SQM carries out an Environmental Monitoring Plan to evaluate the status of the systems in the Salar de Atacama.
This includes an ongoing hydro-geological monitoring plan and biotic monitoring conducted annually in April, when the vegetation is most vigorous following summer rains in the area.
The company monitors a set of variables that allows it to detect changes in lake systems and vegetation in a timely manner using direct on-site measurements and high-resolution satellite images (QuickBird or WorldView 2). The biotic monitoring includes variables such as flora, fauna and vegetation, soil moisture and aquatic life featuring 25 sampling stations distributed among the three lake systems in the Salar de Atacama (Soncor, Aguas de Quelana and Peine).
Moreover, the company also has 225 aquifer monitoring points in the Salar de Atacama for hydro-geological monitoring, which includes measuring of the levels and physical and chemical qualities of water distributed among shallow and deep wells, metric rods at lagoon level and gauging stations; and meteorological stations and lake surface monitoring using satellite imaging.
Hydro-geological monitoring is a quantitative tool used to verify forecasted impacts during a project’s operations. It also serves as an instrument for operating the Contingency Plan.
In addition to the Environmental Monitoring Plan, SQM signed a cooperative agreement with the Chilean National Forestry Corporation (CONAF) in 1995. It includes an environmental monitoring programme entitled “Bird Life Habitat and Population in the Salar de Atacama” which is aimed at opportunely detecting changes in the lake’s surface and depth, the bird population, the flamingoes’ food supply, local physical and chemical conditions and human activities. This monitoring is complementary to the hydro-geological and biotic monitoring that is carried out by SQM as part of its Environmental Monitoring Plan.
Environmental Monitoring Plan in the Salar de Llamara
The Salar de Llamara is classified as a priority site in the Regional Biodiversity Conservation Strategy of the Tarapacá Region due to a native tamarugo (Prosopis Tamarugo) forest and lagoons with stromatolites located there.
As part of the Pampa Hermosa project, SQM uses its Environmental Monitoring Plan to observe a series of environmental variables in order to ensure that the project’s activities adhere to the provisions of the environmental assessment. The company monitors tamarugo vitality using high-resolution satellite images taken each year in November, when the greatest amount of vegetation occurs.
Our efforts in this area also include repair and compensation measures such as irrigation, plant production, tamarugo planting, phytosanitary programmes and off-site conservation of tamarugo germplasm.
Experts also monitor retama thickets and hygromorphic meadows in Puquios de Llamara in order to evaluate the hydric status and vitality of these plants. Measurements are taken of the percentage of green growth, vigour and phenology. We also conduct semi-annual monitoring of underwater and surface biota (water quality) in the lagoons in the Salar de Llamara in order to verify that there are no unforeseen effects on biotic systems. A mitigation measure has been implemented to mitigate the effects of the decline in the water table on Puquios de Llamara. Maintaining the levels and chemical quality of the water with minimal variations facilitates adequate development of biotic systems.
The company has also implemented a Hydro-geological Monitoring Plan to verify the forecasted impact of the project. This is a key part of the Early Warning Plan, which includes monthly measurements of the aquifer as well as measurements of the volume and flow of extraction from authorized wells.