Water quality & use

Whenever society uses water, the potential exists for adding unsafe levels of pollutants to the water when it is returned to our waterways after use. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) have established water quality regulations that protect human health and the environment from such unsafe levels. These regulatory agencies, using scientific evidence, have developed regulatory programs to control the quality of water discharged from a variety of businesses such as transportation facilities, commercial operations, manufacturing sites and mining operations. Agencies control water discharges by issuing permits that often require certain controls, best management practices, water testing and facility inspections to ensure water discharges are compliant with the regulatory programs. Mining companies work hard to maintain compliance with their water permits. The regulatory agencies monitor industry for permit compliance and conduct water monitoring as well.

In LaSalle County, many mines minimize their water discharge because water is being recycled during mining and processing operations. Typically, water from on-site surface water sources (including the capture of storm runoff) is used to wash the silts and clays out of the construction sand, gravel and silica sand, so the finished products are clean for market applications. The wash waters containing silts and clays are pumped into a sedimentation pond, allowing the fines particles to settle out on-site. Settled wash water is then recycled back to the processing plant for continued use in the washing process. In addition, some of the water retained by on-site surface water sources is lost to evaporation or infiltrates into subsurface flows.

The IEPA, Bureau of Water is in charge of enforcing Federal and State water pollution regulations. Mine operators are required to obtain a construction and/or operating permit from the Bureau of Water for the regulation of storm and process waters within a mining site. Depending on the type of the mine configuration, the State will require a permit to retain or a permit to discharge all waters associated with the mining activities.

Storm water discharge permits

In 1990 USEPA adopted Storm Water Discharge Regulations; most states received delegation for these rules in 1992. Since that time, states require every business and industry to control “industrial” storm water discharges so it does not further contaminate lakes, rivers and streams. To ensure businesses and industries implement controls, storm water discharges from their plants, sites, or projects must be permitted.

Illinois has two different types of storm water discharge permits that are typically used in the mining and construction materials industry.

  • The Illinois EPA issues a General NPDES permit for storm water discharges from construction site activities, which requires a Notice of Intent (NOI), the submission of a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP), a permit processing fee, and documented inspections of the permitted area.

  • The Illinois EPA also issues a General NPDES permit for storm water discharges from industrial site activities, which requires a Notice of Intent (NOI), the submission of a SWPPP, a permit processing fee, and documented routine inspections of the permitted area.

If a discharge permit is required, the mine operator must submit monitoring reports to the IEPA, with data indicating the quantity and quality of water being discharged. The water that is discharged from a site is usually a mixture of stormwater, groundwater seepage, and surplus process wash water, and must meet the effluent limitations of the permit. Along with this important permitting function, the Bureau of Water is empowered to perform unannounced, random inspections. Operators who violate Federal and State water quality laws are subject to fines and criminal prosecution.

Storm water pollution prevention plan (SWPPP)

Businesses and industries discharging storm water must develop and implement a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP). SWPPP’s must be developed to describe all possible pollutants which are on site, locations where storm water runoff will likely leave the property, controls that will be implemented to manage or control storm water runoff, required training, types of inspections to be performed, and documentation which must be kept. The plan must also identify who is responsible for plan development and monitoring. The SWPPP must be provided to representatives of regulatory agencies when requested and updated any time there are changes made to personnel, the plant, or the site.

Oils spill prevention, control and countermeasures (SPCC) plan

In 1974, the Federal Government passed the Oil Pollution Control Act in order to regulate storage of large amounts of petroleum products. More commonly known as the SPCC Rules, this Federal Law, which applies to all States, was implemented (and is enforced) by the USEPA. The rules apply to all facilities which store 1,320 gallons or more of oils on site (in containers 55-gallons or larger) and where there is a chance a spill could reach “navigable waters” of the United States. Oils are a broadly defined category and include crude oil and refined petroleum products, animal and vegetable oils, non-petroleum oils such as coal tar and its derivatives, and lubricating oil additives. When a facility is subject to the SPCC Rules, a SPCC Plan must be developed and implemented.

Water used by mining and mineral processing sites in LaSalle County

Owners and managers of mines and mineral processing sites understand that water is an important resource. Mines and processing plants have a need to use water for a variety of operations. Water is generally needed to mine and clean the mineral, control emissions, and clean-up around the processing plant.

The water needed for this industry is typically obtained locally from on site wells or surface waters collected in pits and quarries where mining has taken place.

Mine owners and managers understand the value of water and want to use it wisely.

Most sites are developed to recycle water to the maximum extent possible. This means that water can be used and reused over and over. Recycling operations will experience a loss of water due to evaporation, seepage into groundwater, and use as a control of particulate emissions. These losses are typically offset by precipitation or make-up water derived from onsite wells or surface waters. Excess water at a site is typically discharged to a surface water source in accordance with the site's water discharge permit.

LaSalle County groundwater holding steady

An article printed in the LaSalle News Tribune on April 6, 2016 noted, "A study in northern Illinois showed LaSalle County is not losing much groundwater compared to surrounding areas, which might indicate that high capacity wells, such those used in processing sand and stone, are not drawing down well water.

The study, 'Changing Groundwater Levels in the Sandstone Aquifers of Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin: Impacts on Available Water Supply,' was published last fall by Illinois State Water Survey, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign."

Read the news article here: http://newstrib.com/main.asp?Search=1&ArticleID=50455&SectionID=2&SubSectionID=29&S=1(accessed 4/11/2016)

Read the study here: http://www.isws.illinois.edu/pubdoc/CR/ISWSCR2015-02.pdf (accessed 4/11/16)

A comprehensive review of regulatory control and oversight of industrial sand mining is available HERE