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Water Stewardship

Water management, water-related risks, and performance related to total and new water use, water recycled and reused, water intensity, and company-wide water balance.

GRI Indicators
303-103, 303-1, 303-3, 306-103, 306-1

Water Stewardship

Water is an essential resource for people, communities and the environment. Overconsumption, environmental degradation and changing climate conditions are contributing to growing water risks, with nearly 1.8 billion people in 17 countries who faced high water stress in 2019.1 Recognizing the importance of water, governments and companies are working to improve the management, protection and restoration of the world’s fresh water ecosystems. These actions are aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 on clean water and sanitation.2

Water is a critical input to the mining process. Mining companies demonstrate leadership in water stewardship by using water efficiently, maintaining water quality and engaging with communities to collaboratively manage a shared water resource throughout the mining life cycle.

Leadership in water stewardship is a priority for Teck. Communities with whom we share watersheds care about access to sufficient quantities of clean water for health, quality of life, economic well-being and the preservation of the local environment, and we share those values. That is why we are working to protect water quality downstream of our operations, improve water use efficiency in water-scarce regions and engage with communities of interest on watershed management wherever we operate. Teck made progress towards meeting our water stewardship commitments this year, including the targets set in 2018 to reduce fresh water use at our Chilean operations and to have zero significant water-related incidents at all operations. On water use, we continued to advance water projects at our Chilean operations to help us achieve our 2020 target of a 15% reduction in fresh water use.  At our Quebrada Blanca Phase 2 project, we began construction of a desalination plant so that we will not use fresh water in this water-scarce region.

On water quality, we met our target of zero significant water-related incidents in 2019. We also continued to implement the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan at our steelmaking coal operations in southeast British Columbia and updated the implementation plan based on key learnings over the past five years. Major activities included the successful operation of the West Line Creek water treatment facility, ongoing construction of the Fording River South water treatment facility and advancing expansion of the Elkview Saturated Rock Fill (SRF) water treatment facility.


Our Approach to Water Stewardship

In the mining industry, water stewardship is critical because processing of mined materials often uses large volumes of water. This use can also potentially affect water quality, which in turn can affect other water users if not managed appropriately. Mining can demonstrate leadership in water stewardship by using water efficiently, protecting water quality and collaboratively managing a shared water resource by working with communities.
Teck recognizes that access to water is a human right, and that water is essential to stakeholders in the watersheds where we operate. Communities with whom we share watersheds care about clean water for physical and spiritual health, quality of life, economic well-being and ecosystem health, and we share these values. Responsible water management is fundamental to maintaining trust in the watersheds where we operate. 
We work to incorporate water stewardship into our business planning through implementation of our Water Governance framework so that we effectively manage the quantities of water we use and the quality of water as it leaves our operations and legacy properties. Effective and efficient water management is a priority to meet regulatory requirements and work effectively with stakeholders.

The Board of Directors, through its Safety and Sustainability Committee, broadly oversees health, safety, environment and community policies, systems, performance and auditing, including implementation of our Health, Safety, Environment and Community (HSEC) Management Standards and our Water Governance framework.

The following senior leaders are involved in implementing water stewardship:

  • The Senior Vice President, Sustainability and External Affairs reports directly to our CEO and is responsible for sustainability, health and safety, environment, community, and Indigenous affairs, including water stewardship
  • The Vice President, Environment oversees compliance with environmental standards for projects, operations and our legacy properties, and regularly reviews environmental performance risks and strategic issues, including water

We have a Water Policy and a water governance framework to ensure we implement consistent water stewardship across Teck. Our Water Policy outlines our commitment to apply consistently strong and transparent water governance, to manage water at operations efficiently and effectively, and to collaborate to achieve responsible and sustainable water use. It defines the company-wide approach we use to manage the risks and realize the opportunities related to water.

Our water governance framework includes requirements to ensure:

  • Qualified individuals are involved in water activities
  • Water risks and opportunities are identified and managed
  • Water considerations are integrated into business planning
  • Water expertise is developed and knowledge is shared across the organization
  • Mechanisms are in place for evaluating and reporting on water performance

We work with various local, national and international organizations and programs to support improvements in water stewardship across the industry:

  • International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM): A global industry association that represents leading international mining and metals companies who are required to implement the ICMM 10 Principles, including Principle 6 on environmental performance
  • Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA): An alliance of oil sands producers focused on accelerating improvement in environmental performance in Canada’s oil sands through collaborative action and innovation
  • UN Global Compact CEO Water Mandate: A commitment to adopt and implement the mandate’s strategic framework and its six core elements for water management
  • International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14001: Nine of our 10 operations3 are certified to ISO 14001 for their environmental management system

3 Includes Cardinal River, Highland Valley Copper, Red Dog, Trail, Carmen de Andacollo and our four steelmaking coal operations in the Elk Valley. This does not include operations in which Teck has/had an ownership interest but is not the operator, e.g., Antamina and Fort Hills.

We work to be a leader in water stewardship by moving beyond compliance and towards collaborative water management practices that focus on sustaining and restoring water resources. Our approach to water management is based on three pillars: protecting water quality, improving water use efficiency and engaging collaboratively within our watersheds.

Protecting Water Quality

A key component to how we manage water quality at each operation is ensuring compliance with applicable standards, regulations and permits. The other key component is undertaking aquatic life and ecosystem assessments that use scientifically rigorous evaluations and projections for ecosystem health.

Our practices include frequent monitoring of existing and reference conditions, and planning for future conditions, so that we can manage the risks and realize the opportunities related to water. As part of our practices, we report on water quality measurements and trends to relevant authorities, and adaptively manage our activities.

Each location has specific water considerations that depend on the local context. For example, we actively manage water quality in the Elk Valley region of British Columbia, where Teck operates four steelmaking coal operations, and we are implementing a groundwater remediation plan at our Trail Operations in British Columbia. We also monitor and report on water quality and aquatic health in the Elk Valley. Making this information broadly available helps advance community knowledge and understanding, and can accelerate the pace of scientific progress and innovation. Our monitoring activities include regular water quality monitoring of surface and groundwater, and monitoring of aquatic health through programs such as Regional Aquatic Effects Monitoring and Local Aquatic Effects Monitoring. The results are typically reported annually by professional scientists and reviewed by external experts. For example, in the Elk Valley, an Environmental Monitoring Committee was established to provide science-based and Ktunaxa traditional knowledge advice and input to Teck and regulators relative to our monitoring programs.

Improving Water Use Efficiency

We continuously work on optimizing our water use, thereby minimizing our consumption of fresh water. We focus on reducing our fresh water intake and maximizing the reuse of water to increase water availability for others near our operations in water-scarce regions.

Each operation maintains a Water Management Plan (WMP). Annually, we update WMPs in conjunction with the update of each operation’s water balance. The plans describe how the operation fits into the local watershed and its associated regulatory context. WMPs also describe how we manage water now and in the future, in order to:

  • Contribute to meeting our water goals
  • Provide direction and strategies to address water management risks and challenges
  • Establish how water management infrastructure performance will be monitored and reviewed


Site-wide water balances at each operation provide an understanding of water inputs, consumption, and reuse/recycle and discharge volumes at each operation. We use water balances as a decision-making tool to assess water management alternatives, to evaluate an operation’s water management performance and to provide water data for our company-wide reporting.


We monitor and model local groundwater resources to determine rates of drawdown and ensure long-term protection of these water sources. Forecasts of future availability and use are developed to guide decision-making and to ensure the aquifers are protected for the benefit of local water users in the future.

Water Stewardship in Water-Stressed Regions

Our Carmen de Andacollo and Quebrada Blanca operations are located in regions where water is scarce. Viable water use and supply options are considered when planning projects and assessing potential expansions or extensions. A broad range of scenarios is developed and assessed, including, for example, the use of desalinated water at our Quebrada Blanca Phase 2 project.

At Carmen de Andacollo Operations, Teck is a member of the Pan de Azúcar Mesa Hidrica, a regional group of stakeholders for the management of common water issues. Teck was also central to the creation of the Culcatan Mesa Hidrica, which are multi-stakeholder forums to manage water in water-stressed areas.

Engaging Collaboratively Within Our Watersheds

Access to clean and sufficient water by others in the watersheds where we operate is important to us and to our stakeholders. When implementing our water management practices, we consider and engage with other water users in the watersheds to promote water stewardship.

As part of this process, we are incorporating the approach defined in ICMM’s guide to catchment-based water management to identify, evaluate and respond to water-related risks and opportunities in our watersheds. One example of a watershed-based approach is in the Elk Valley, where four of our steelmaking coal operations are located, and where we actively engage stakeholders in the implementation of the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan.

Our sustainability strategy outlines our goals in relation to continuously improving water stewardship at our operations.

In 2019, we conducted broad engagement with employees and external stakeholders to identify and prioritize global trends and issues and set a new sustainability strategy, including new strategic priorities and goals in water stewardship.

Strategic Priorities:

  • Transition to seawater or low-quality water sources for all operations in water-scarce regions by 2040
  • Implement innovative water management and water treatment solutions to protect water quality downstream of all our operations


  • By 2025, design all development projects in water-scarce regions with a seawater or low-quality water source.
  • By 2025, implement new source control or mine design strategies and water treatment systems to further advance efforts to manage water quality at our operations.

Our focus in 2020 will be on making progress towards our new goals and concluding final steps on the 2020 water stewardship goals within our existing sustainability strategy. By the end of 2020, we will:

  • Contribute to watershed management in water-stressed regions through water use efficiency projects, use of alternative water sources, water quality improvement measures, and capacity building
  • Increase our understanding of groundwater and proactively assess groundwater risks
  • Collaborate in developing innovative water technology and practice
  • Reduce fresh water use at our Chilean operations by 15%
  • Have zero significant water-related incidents each year.

For more information on our existing and new sustainability strategy goals, see the Sustainability Strategy section of our website.


Type Organization Items Reviewed
External International Council on Mining and Metals: Sustainability Report assurance
  • All operations - Water withdrawals for use
  • Principle 6: Pursue continual improvement in environmental performance issues, such as water stewardship, energy use and climate change
External ISO 14001 External Audit
  • Components of the environmental management system at each site
Internal Risk-based Health, Safety and Environment audits
  • Adherence to regulatory and permit requirements
  • Effectiveness of controls based on risk profile
Internal Water Reviews
  • Assessment of operational water management activities relative to Water Governance framework

Following each of these types of assurance, applicable management teams use the results to inform future actions, business strategy and Teck’s five-year planning process.

We report on our performance against indicators and our progress towards our water goals on an annual basis in our sustainability report.

Our Performance in Water Stewardship in 2019

Managing Water Quality in the Elk Valley

In 2019, we continued to implement water quality management measures to meet the objectives of the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan (“the Plan”), which was approved in 2014 by the B.C. Minister of Environment. The goal of the Plan is to stabilize and reverse the increasing trend of mine-related constituents and to maintain the health of the watershed while allowing for continued sustainable mining in the region where our steelmaking coal operations are located.

The Plan establishes short-, medium- and long-term water quality targets, which are protective of the environment and human health, for selenium, nitrate, sulphate and cadmium, as well as a plan to manage calcite formation. In 2019, we implemented a range of practices and mitigation projects as part of the Plan, including reduction of nitrate from blasting by using liners for explosives, the expansion of the Saturated Rock Fill treatment (SRF) technology and advancing construction of the Fording River South Water Treatment Facility. To date, we have spent approximately $425 million on implementing the Plan.

Monitoring Aquatic Health

Teck conducts ongoing aquatic health studies and monitoring in the Elk Valley. Making this information broadly available helps advance community knowledge and understanding and can accelerate the pace of scientific progress and innovation.

As part of our regular monitoring of fish numbers, the results of 2019 Westslope Cutthroat trout counts were 74% lower for juveniles and 93% lower for adults than the 2017 counts in the Upper Fording River. The reasons for the lower fish counts are unknown at this time. When we received the results of the fish count we re-surveyed, initiated additional monitoring for fish and brought together a team of experts to assess potential causes. Precautionary measures were also implemented to limit handling and sampling of fish and limit water use at our operations during low-flow periods. 

Annual reports about our ongoing monitoring programs are prepared by professional scientists and reflect data generated since the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan was approved. The reports have been reviewed by the Environmental Monitoring Committee (EMC), a group that provides science-based and Ktunaxa traditional knowledge advice and input to Teck and the B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy regarding monitoring designs and reports in the Elk Valley. The committee includes representatives from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy; Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources; Ktunaxa Nation Council; Interior Health Authority; and Teck, as well as an independent scientist. Read the 2019 EMC Report

Water Treatment Facilities

The West Line Creek water treatment facility is operating and successfully treating over seven million litres of water a day. As a result, we are seeing reductions in selenium and nitrate concentrations downstream of the facility. Construction of the Fording River South water treatment facility continued in 2019 and the project is targeting completion for the end of 2020, with a full treatment capacity of 20 million litres of water per day.

In 2019, the B.C. Government endorsed SRFs, a new treatment technology developed by Teck that uses an in situ method to remove selenium and nitrate from mine-impacted water. We received approval to begin construction to expand the SRF facility at our Elkview Operations from 10 million litres of water per day to 20 million litres of water per day. The expanded facility will replace the previously planned Elkview Tank-Based Water Treatment Facility and is expected to be operational in late 2020. SRFs can treat large volumes of water with less energy and with a smaller environmental footprint compared to tank-based facilities. SRFs are also quicker to build, less complex to operate, and have lower capital and operating costs. Read the full case study at http://www.teck.com/news/stories/. 

Research and Development

Teck is focused on continued monitoring and research as part of the Plan. Three examples of this work are:

  • Alternative treatment technologies: Exploring the use of smaller water treatment facilities that can be built much closer to points of discharge
  • Nitrate prevention: Using liners that prevent explosives that contain nitrate, which are used in the mining process, from coming in contact with water
  • Waste rock covers: Continuing to evaluate different forms of covers for waste rock piles, ranging from vegetative to geosynthetic covers

Community Engagement on Water

Access to clean and sufficient water by users in our areas of influence is important to us and to our stakeholders. When implementing our water management practices, we consider and engage with other water users in the watersheds where we operate. In 2019, we conducted community engagement in the Elk Valley to share updates on our work on water quality in the watershed, as well as new technologies being implemented to improve water quality.

Improving Water Efficiency

We monitor water data at all our operations and incorporate the data into scenario planning using site-wide water balances.4 The company-wide water balance is complex, due to the variability of natural factors such as rainfall, snowmelt and the diversity of the climates and geological conditions where our operations are located. Understanding our water balance is key to improving water management practices and to enabling better decision-making.

In 2018, we updated our water data collection and reporting to align with the ICMM’s A practical guide to consistent water reporting. Our detailed water data is provided in our 2019 Sustainability Performance Data spreadsheet.

At Teck, we use water primarily for material processing and transport, cooling and dust control. The portion of the water we use that is consumed occurs through entrainment in our products and tailings or through evaporative processes.   The water we use is obtained primarily from where our operations interface with surface water and groundwater systems and we are transitioning to sea water sources in water-scarce regions such as northern Chile. Overall, we discharge a significant proportion of our water withdrawals without use and where practical, we discharge this water close to the withdrawal location. The water we discharge is monitored and treated where necessary. 

4 Site-wide water balances provide an understanding of water withdrawals, consumption, reuse/recycle and discharge volumes at each operation. Water balances are developed using a mix of measurements and modelling computation.

Figure 5: Company-Wide Water Balance (million m3


Water discharge: water removed from an operation and returned to the environment or a third party (surface water, groundwater, seawater or third party)
Water withdrawal: water that is received, extracted or managed (collected and conveyed through an operation’s infrastructure) by operation and by type (surface water, groundwater, seawater or thirdparty water); excludes water diverted away from operational areas

Water consumption: water that is no longer available for use, including evaporated water, water entrained in products or tailings, and other operational losses

Water use: water used for mining or operational processes, such as for mineral processing, cooling, dust control or truck washing. Water use includes:

  • New water: water that is used for the first time
  • Reused water: water that is reused without being treated between uses
  • Recycled water: water that is reused and is treated prior to reuse

Water that enters a site and is discharged without use: water that enters a site, is not used in any processes and is released to the receiving environment

Change of storage: the change in the stored water volume at our operations – the difference between water inputs and water outputs. A positive number indicates water accumulation and a negative number indicates decreased storage

Types of Water

Surface water: water from precipitation and runoff that is not diverted around the operations; includes water inputs from surface water bodies that may be located within our operation’s boundaries

Groundwater: water from beneath the earth’s surface that collects or flows in the porous spaces in soil and rock that is not diverted around the operations

Third-party sources: water supplied by an entity external to the operation, such as from a municipality. We do not use wastewater from other organizations

Seawater: water obtained from a sea or ocean

In 2019, our water efficiency, expressed as the percentage of reused and recycled water to total water use, was 74% at our mining operations (excluding Trail Operations). The number of times water was reused and recycled, expressed as the ratio of water reused and recycled to water withdrawals for use, was 2.87 at our mining operations. This means that we reused the same water approximately 3 times on average before treating and returning it to the environment.

Trail Operations accounts for 27% of our total water use and 59% of our water withdrawals for use. Almost all of the water used at Trail Operations is for cooling purposes, meaning that it does not come into contact with chemicals or reagents, and the only change it undergoes is a slight increase in temperature before being returned to the environment within regulatory-approved conditions.

In 2019, our total water use and water withdrawals for use were similar to 2018.  At our mining operations, we reduced our total water use and water withdrawals for use primarily through operational improvements at our Highland Valley Copper Operations and interruptions to production at our Carmen de Andacollo Operations.

In 2019, progress towards our target of reducing freshwater use in Chile by 15% by 2020 was affected by the interruptions to production at Carmen de Andacollo. We were able to reduce our freshwater consumption by up to 13% during the months where our water reuse infrastructure was fully operational and we continue to work on increasing our water reuse to reduce our need for freshwater in water-scarce regions like northern Chile.

Table 9: Water Use, Water Reused and Recycled






All operations

Total water use (m3)





Water withdrawals for use (m3)(1)





Mining operations

Total water use (m3)





Water withdrawals for use (m3)





Water reused/recycled (m3)





Water efficiency (reused/recycled as % of total water use)





Number of times water reused and recycled (ratio of reused/recycled and withdrawals for use)





(1) ‘Water withdrawals for use’ previously called ‘new water use’. Definition updated to reflect ICMM water reporting guidance.
(2) 2018 data has been restated based on improvements in accounting for water use and reuse at our Line Creek operations.

Outlook for Water Stewardship

In 2020, we will continue the work of implementing our approach to water stewardship, with a focus on achieving our 2020 water goals and two water targets: reducing fresh water consumption at our Chilean operations and achieving zero significant water-related incidents across Teck. We will also continue to implement the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan by advancing construction of a tank-based water treatment facility at our Fording River Operations, by continuing research and development with respect to source control and by expanding the use of SRF technology. As part of reducing our consumption of fresh water at our Chilean operations, we will advance construction of the desalination plant for our Quebrada Blanca Phase 2 project.

Moving forward, we will work towards our strategic priorities of transitioning to seawater or low-quality water sources for all operations in water-scarce regions by 2040 and implementing innovative water management and water treatment solutions to protect water quality downstream of all our operations. We have set new water goals, which include designing all development projects in water-scarce regions with a seawater or low-quality water source and implementing new source control or mine design strategies and water treatment systems to further advance efforts to manage water quality at our operations by 2025. Our focus in 2020 will be on concluding the final steps of our 2020 goals within our previous sustainability strategy, and on making progress towards our new goals.


Teck is a diversified resource company committed to responsible mining and mineral development with major business units focused on copper, steelmaking coal and zinc, as well as investments in energy assets.