Officials at BHP Billiton have approved an investment of nearly $2 billion to construct a new 2,500 liter-per-second sea-water de-salination facility to sustain operations at the Escondida mine in Chile. The project, according to company officials, will ensure continued water supply to the Atacama Desert site, as water use increases upon completion of the 152,000 ton per day OGP1 copper concentrator.

“Securing a sustainable water supply in the desert is a major priority for all Chilean copper producers,” said BHP Billiton Copper President Peter Beaven. “The new facility will minimize reliance on the region’s aquifers to meet environmental commitments and enable our long-term business strategy.”

Construction of the new facility begins this month and will include the development of two pipelines, four high-pressure pump stations, a mine site reservoir, and high voltage infrastructure support. The new facility, noted BHP, will be commissioned in 2017. Escondida lies 3,100 m above sea level, 170 km southeast of Antofagasta.