Abstracting water to extract minerals in Mongolia’s South Gobi Province

Sara L. Jackson
Metropolitan State University of Denver, Denver, CO, USA; sjacks62@msudenver.edu

ABSTRACT: The Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold mine has become a symbol of the promise of mining to revive Mongolia’s struggling economy and to propel the nation into a new era of prosperity. Water resources are vital to the operation of Oyu Tolgoi, which is expected to be in operation for at least thirty years. However, local residents, particularly nomadic herders, have raised concerns about the redirection of water resources for mining. While the company claims that mining infrastructure has little to no impact on herders’ water resources, herders regularly report decreasing well water levels. With increased mining development throughout Mongolia’s Gobi Desert region, mining infrastructure and regulations are transforming local relationships to water and livelihoods. I argue that water infrastructure for mining symbolises the movement of water away from culturally embedded contexts towards water management practices that prioritise the needs of national development and corporate profits. This analysis contributes to the under-examined intersection of water and mining in the hydrosocial cycle literature and demonstrates the currency of 'modern water' in the context of global mining development. The research includes interviews and focus groups conducted with stakeholders, participant observation and document collection that took place in Mongolia from 2011 to 2012 with follow-up research conducted in 2015.

KEYWORDS: Water, nation, infrastructure, Oyu Tolgoi, Mongolia