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.
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.
Water use by mine and mineral processing sites 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 onsite wells, municipal water system 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. Typically, water from onsite surface water sources (including the capture of storm runoff) is used to wash the dusts, silts and clays out of the stone, construction sand, gravel and silica sand, so the finished products are clean for market applications. These wash waters 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. 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, municipal water system 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.