South eastern Brazil underwent one of its worst droughts in four decades in 2014. The drop in rainfall saw river levels fall so severely that the government of the state of Espirito Santo declared a state of emergency. In response, ArcelorMittal Brazil developed a water master plan to deal with the water shortage. 

Since then, the actions set out in that plan have reduced the company’s water intake by more than 6,000,000 m3 /year, despite a 17% increase in production. 

ArcelorMittal Brazil chose to proactively address the water shortage issue to ensure the safety of its industrial operations, while reducing the impact of using water from river basins for steel production.

During the drought, the company implemented a range of quick wins to save water, such as using recycled water to spray its raw materials yard to prevent wind erosion, using water condensed from air conditioning systems to clean its facilities, installing low-flow devices in taps and running an internal campaign to encourage staff to save water – all of which continue today. 

It achieved its longer-term objective by introducing three key guidelines for saving water. The first of these is the efficient use of water. That is, to reduce water usage by eradicating leaks, investing in new systems to reuse effluents, and improving recirculation, all of which curbed water waste. Engaging employees in this process also played a major role in reducing water consumption. They were keen to do their part, proposing improvements and making a conscious effort to use less water. 

The second guideline focusses on finding alternative water resources, which included implementing numerous projects to diversify each operation’s water sources and in doing so, reducing the impact on any individual source. So, ArcelorMittal Brazil, in close consultation with local stakeholders, studied the feasibility of new water sources including:

  • Building artesian wells inside the plants – these are wells which do not require a pump to bring water to the surface; if there is enough pressure in the aquifer, it forces the water to the surface without assistance.
  • Desalinising sea water in plants located near the coast. 
  • Using treated effluent from its own processes and studying how it might also use effluents from external sources such as municipal water treatment plants, with the help of global R&D.
  • Finding alternative surface intake points.It also made the biggest private investment in water reuse in Espirito Santo, spending 23 million Brazilian real to renovate its water treatment facilities, nearly doubling capacity from 400m/h of water to 720m/h. Alongside this investment, ArcelorMittal Brazil installed new pipelines to take this water into more areas of its plants to enable it to be reused in more production processes. 

The third guideline concerns stepping up ArcelorMittal Brazil’s participation in local water committees to which it contributes technical expertise and innovative ideas to improve public management of this crucial natural resource. The company also coordinates the technical group in water management at the Federation of Industries, is an active member of the River Basin Committee, financially supports the preservation of regional river basins, springs and other water sources, and has demonstrated its commitment to the responsible use of water by publicly signing water stewardship pacts. 

It has also implemented a public relations campaign in partnership with the Terra Institute to support the Olhos D’Agua programme. The campaign raised awareness of the importance of the Doce River Basin, highlighted the repercussions of water scarcity and informed residents of how they can change their habits to save water and protect this precious resource. The campaign also included launching a book titled Resolving Water Conflicts which shares examples of successful water management strategies.

Through these actions, local communities have come to see ArcelorMittal Brazil as a partner that contributes heavily to effective water management. To further enhance its role in this area, the company is seeking ways to make more water available for community use through watershed management strategies. Further detail on the potential solutions it is exploring will follow in due course.