Scarcer water resources, stricter water regulations, decline in ore grade and increasing controversy on water use between local communities and mining operators have raised awareness of good water stewardship as being vital to running commercially viable mining operations. Water footprint assessment (WFA) is a holistic methodological framework that allows detailed quantification of direct and indirect water use in different sectors at various spatial and temporal scales. The ultimate aim of this study is to identify water footprint (WF) reduction targets, formulate response strategies to minimize water consumption and pollution and therefore improve the environmental, social and economic sustainability of the mining processes. The assessment will eventually serve as a model for other mines in northern China with water scarcity issues. The paper describes the preliminary WFA of copper cathodes, with particular emphasis on the methodology, approach, degree of details and areas for consideration. It focuses from ore extraction to final discharge to the river. Significant WF contribution is found in the process rather than the supply chain. The explorative approach applied in this real case scenario and the findings contribute to the literature body of the WFA field. This case study can provide helpful guidance for WFA practitioners when applying this methodological framework in addressing particular issues in mining processes.