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Water Management

Approach to water management, water-related risks, and performance related to our water balance (total water withdrawal and discharge by source); water uses and proportion of reuse and recycle. 

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

Why Was Water Management a Material Topic in 2016?

Water is a precious shared resource with significant social, cultural, environmental and economic value, and it is fundamental for healthy, functional ecosystems. The United Nations sets sustainable water management as a worldwide priority with the establishment of SDG 6 — ensure access to water and sanitation for all — which builds upon the CEO Water Mandate set forth by the United Nations Global Compact.

In the mining industry, water management is a critical issue because processing mined materials typically uses large volumes of water and can also potentially affect water quality, which in turn can affect other water users. As a result, the industry can affect, and is affected by, issues of water availability and quality. Mine operations can demonstrate leadership in water stewardship by using water efficiently, maintaining water quality, and engaging with communities to collaboratively manage a shared water resource through the mining life cycle. 

Recognizing this, ICMM published a position statement defining a common approach to water stewardship in 2016. ICMM members, including Teck, recognize that they have a significant role to play in creating a safer and more sustainable mining and metals industry. This requires a commitment to apply strong and transparent water governance, effective water management, and collaboration to achieve responsible and sustainable water use.

Communities with whom we share watersheds care about access to sufficient quantities of clean water for physical and spiritual health, quality of life, economic well-being and the maintenance of the local environment. We share those values, and our employees live in those same communities. Without adequate access to water, our operations could not function. Responsible water management is fundamental to maintaining the trust of our communities of interest.

We work to manage the amount of water we use and the quality of that water as it leaves our sites and legacy properties. Water management is also a major strategic priority across every business unit in terms of meeting regulatory requirements and obtaining or maintaining permits. Water-related risks can impact both our ability to operate and our communities of interest, which is why ongoing stakeholder engagement in water management is essential.  

Performance Highlights


The approximate number of times water was reused and recycled at our operations in 2016

Our Targets and Commitments

Our vision is to contribute to the balance between the social, economic, recreational and cultural benefits of water resources, within ecologically sustainable limits. We aim to be a leader in water stewardship by improving our understanding of the quantity and quality of water used at our mining operations, by achieving measurable improvements in water use and quality, and by engaging with other water users in our areas of influence.  

Our targets include, in the short term (by 2020): 

  • 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. 

By 2030, our long-term goals are to work within an informed understanding of ecological limits, regional issues, and demands on water resources to address:

  • Water Quality: Keep clean water clean, minimize water quality deterioration, and take care of affected water resources.
  • Water Quantity: Minimize water use per unit of production and transition to alternative water sources.
  • Water Stewardship: Contribute to water use planning in our areas of influence. 


How Does Teck Manage Water?

In this section, we outline our policies and practices for protecting water quality, collaborating with communities to ensure fair allocation of water, and improving water efficiency.

We are working 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 key elements: protecting water quality, collaborating with our communities of interest to ensure the fair allocation of water, and improving water use efficiency. Wherever possible, we work to “keep clean water clean” with our actions but we realize that impacts occur; our water management approach aims to limit and/or remediate those impacts. Our commitment to water stewardship is embodied in our HSEC Management Standards and our sustainability strategy. At a global level, Teck has endorsed the UN Global Compact CEO Water Mandate. This means we have a commitment to adopt and implement the Mandate’s strategic framework and its six core elements for water management: direct operations, supply chain and watershed management, collective action, public policy, community engagement, and transparency. 

Groundwater is a key component of the overall water cycle but one that is often the least appreciated and/or understood. We continue to work to increase our understanding of groundwater at our operations, to proactively assess risks and to minimize impacts on groundwater. In 2016, we collected and compiled groundwater information from our operations. A plan has been set for 2017 to analyze the data to evaluate knowledge gaps, identify groundwater issues and identify operations that need groundwater, and to increase focus on groundwater in order to meet our water goals set for 2020.

One example of our work to date in understanding groundwater risks is from our Trail Operations. As part of the Ecological Risk Assessment conducted at Trail, we identified an area of groundwater affected by the site’s historical activities. Over the past decade, Teck has undertaken a series of studies to identify the scope and impact of the affected groundwater. This work led to the installation of several active capture wells and a water treatment plant that was commissioned in 2016. More information on Trail’s Groundwater Remediation Plan


Protecting water quality is a key element of our sustainability strategy. A key contribution to how we manage water quality at each operation is to ensure compliance with applicable standards, regulations and permits. The other key contributions, beyond compliance, are additional actions that use science-based evaluations and projections for ecosystem health. Our practices include monitoring existing conditions and planning for future conditions so that we can address and mitigate current and future risks. As part of our practices, we report on water quality measurements and trends to relevant authorities. See more about water compliance as part of our environmental management.  

Managing Water Quality in the Elk Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Teck operates five steelmaking coal mines in the Elk Valley of British Columbia that employ over 4,000 people. These employees raise their families in the valley, fish and swim in the Elk River, and care deeply about ensuring the environment is protected. We proactively work to ensure that water quality is protected in the valley now and for generations to come.

On November 18, 2014, the B.C. Ministry of Environment approved an area-based management plan called the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan (the Plan) that was developed by Teck to address the management of water quality constituents released by mining activities throughout the Elk River watershed. Development of the Plan was informed by scientific advice received from a Technical Advisory Committee, chaired by the B.C. Ministry of Environment, that included representatives from Teck, Environment Canada, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state of Montana, Ktunaxa Nation, other provincial ministries, and an independent scientist. Public input was received through three phases of consultation conducted in Elk Valley communities.

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. The approved Plan is a public policy document that will guide future regulatory decision-making regarding water quality and mining in the Elk Valley.

Teck is implementing aquatic monitoring, water quality testing and various water quality management measures in order to achieve the target levels in the Plan. This work is expected to include construction of water diversions and water treatment facilities at a number of our Elk Valley operations, including:

  • A water treatment facility at Line Creek Operations, which completed commissioning in February 2016
  • Water treatment facilities at Fording River and Elkview operations

More information on The Plan.

Managing Water Quality in Chile
Our Chilean operations, Carmen de Andacollo (CdA) and Quebrada Blanca (QB), are located in regions where water is scarce, and it is particularly important for us to consider our neighbours’ water needs at these locations. We are implementing various strategies to manage impacts on local water availability at CdA and QB, where, in total, only 15% of the water used at these operations is new water (water used for the first time). The remaining 85% is recycled or reused water. This means that every cubic metre of new water is reused approximately six times before being cleaned and discharged to the environment.

At CdA, we are working to reduce our intake of fresh water by increasing recovery of water from the thickener, by reducing water used for dust suppression, and by implementing other projects. Through our experience at CdA, we have developed a greater appreciation of the importance of ongoing dialogue and engagement with our local partners and community members regarding water supply issues. This experience continues to influence our efforts in community engagement at our other operations, as well as the water supply considerations for our development projects. 

We are also evaluating alternative approaches for meeting water needs in new development projects. At Quebrada Blanca Phase 2 (QB2) and NuevaUnión, which are both located in water-stressed regions of Chile, we are evaluating the use of desalinated seawater in order to protect and conserve local sources of fresh water for community and agricultural use. At the same time, using seawater is a significant investment, as it requires the construction of desalination plants and associated pipelines as well as additional energy to desalinate the water and pump it from the coast to our sites (approximately 170 kilometres to QB2 and 125 kilometres to NuevaUnión). For these two projects, we are focusing on the protection of local supplies of fresh water while simultaneously exploring opportunities to offset some of the emissions from the required electricity generation through using renewable sources.

Access to clean and sufficient water by users in our areas of influence is important to us and to our communities of interest. When implementing our water management practices, we consider and engage with other water users in the watersheds to promote water stewardship at all of our operations. We use the following criteria to evaluate whether our operation is in a water-stressed region:

  • Limited availability of fresh water from surface or groundwater sources in the local area
  • Broad community concerns over the use of water for purposes other than human consumption and agriculture
  • Limited availability of other water sources such as brackish or saline water in the immediate local area
  • Very low annual rainfall/precipitation
  • Known impacts or stresses on existing surface water supplies and groundwater aquifers

We continuously work on optimizing our water use and thereby minimizing our impact. Each of our operations has completed an integrated water management plan and a site-wide water balance, which are central components of our water management strategy. Water balances consist of data on the volume of water input, use, reuse, recycling and outputs at each operation. 


IWMPs were developed in 2013 at each of our operations and were central components of our water management strategy. Since then, the IWMPs have been updated annually 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. IWMPs, which were developed as the framework to guide water management activities at each of our operations, describe how water is managed now and in the future. Specifically, they describe how water will be managed, in order to:

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

Site-wide water balances provide an understanding of water inputs, consumption, and reuse/recycle and discharge volumes at each operation. Water balances are used 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. 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 we have our operations. These factors can affect the flows within aquifers and surface water. Understanding our water balance is key to improving water management practices and to enabling better decision-making.

What Was Our Performance in Water Management in 2016?

In this section, we report on protection of water quality and improving water use efficiency.

Protecting Water Quality

Throughout the year, we continued to identify risks to mitigate possible impacts and plan for potential changes in our water management strategy. For example, our Elk Valley operations modified blasting products and practices in order to reduce the potential for nitrate to enter the watershed.
We continue to implement the water quality management measures required by the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan, which was approved in the fourth quarter of 2014 by the B.C. Minister of Environment. We completed commissioning of our first water treatment facility under the Plan at our Line Creek Operations in early 2016. In 2016, we spent approximately $40 million towards implementation of the Plan and, in 2017, we expect to spend approximately $100 million.

In 2016, we identified an issue regarding selenium compounds in effluent from our water treatment facility at Line Creek Operations. This issue does not pose an immediate risk to aquatic or human health, but we believe it affects the overall effectiveness of the facility. We are working to assess the potential implications of this issue and, if associated environmental effects are identified, modifications to operating parameters or facilities may be required. Design and construction of future water treatment facilities will incorporate the lessons learned.

Improving Water Efficiency

We track water data for all our operations; however, we assess water reused/recycled both company-wide and for our mining operations only (excluding Trail Operations, which is our zinc and lead smelting and refining facility). Water reused and recycled, expressed as a percentage of new water use, was 150% at our operations. At our mining operations only, this percentage was 391%. This means that our mining operations recycled and reused the same water approximately four times on average before returning that water to the environment.

Table 42: Water Used, Reused and Recycled in 2016






Total water inputs (m3)





Total water outputs (m3)





New water use (m3)





Water reused/recycled (m3)





Water used ÷ water recycled (%)(1)





(1)The percentage calculation is based on the total volume of water reused/recycled divided by the total volume of new water used.
(2) 2015 figures have been restated due to availability of new data in the 2016 reporting period.

Trail Operations accounts for nearly 25% of our total water use and about 62% of our new water use. Almost all of the water used at our Trail Operation 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. Therefore, we track this water separately from the data for our mining operations. 

Figure 21 shows the new water and total water use trend. In 2016, our total water use trend remained relatively constant compared to 2015, even as 11 of our operations increased their production. These results reflect our continued efforts to improve our water use intensity. 

Figure 21: Total and New Water Use (m3) 

Water Intensity 

We benchmark our water performance on the basis of a new water use intensity metric, as shown in Table 43. Our new water use intensity is defined as the annual volume of new water used per unit of material processed by our steelmaking coal and base metals, milling and flotation operations. These water metrics allow us to more consistently evaluate our water performance independent of variations in annual precipitation and ore grades. In addition, these metrics will allow us to inform water management decisions and improvement projects at our operations.

Table 43: 2016 New Water Use Intensity 


Coal Operations(1)

Milling and Flotation Operations(2)










New water use, in million cubic metres (m3)









Quantity processed or produced

38,871,000 tonnes of raw coal processed

35,302,000 tonnes of raw coal processed

40,424,000 tonnes of raw coal processed

38,941,000 tonnes of raw coal processed

72,262,000 tonnes of ore processed

69,186,000 tonnes of ore processed

72,565,000 tonnes of ore processed

67,357,000 tonnes of ore processed

New water use intensity

0.40 m3/tonne of raw coal processed

0.42 m3/tonne of raw coal processed

0.38 m3/tonne of raw coal processed

0.43 m3/tonne of raw coal processed

0.39 m3/tonne of ore processed

0.39 m3/tonne of ore processed

0.41 m3/tonne of ore processed

0.46 m3/tonne of ore processed

(1) Includes Cardinal River, Coal Mountain, Elkview, Fording River, Greenhills and Line Creek operations.
(2) Includes Red Dog, Pend Oreille, Highland Valley Copper and Carmen de Andacollo operations.

Our 2016 new water use intensity metrics showed that our coal operations improved relative to 2015, and that the performance of our base metal milling and flotation operations remained constant relative to 2015. The improvements at our coal operations can be attributed to a continuous focus on reducing our water use intensity across the business unit.  

For Quebrada Blanca and Trail operations, an intensity metric for new water is not meaningful because the volume of new water used at both operations is largely independent of the quantity of material processed or produced. Therefore, we assess our water performance at Quebrada Blanca Operations and Trail Operations based on the absolute amount of new water used. 

Table 44: New Water Use (in million m3) at Quebrada Blanca and Trail Operations






Quebrada Blanca (water used primarily in metal leaching process)





Trail (water used primarily for cooling)





Figure 22: Company-Wide 2016 Water Balance in million cubic metres(1),(2),(3)

 (1) Surface water includes water from precipitation and runoff that is not diverted around the operation, and water inputs from surface waterbodies that may or may not be within the boundaries of our operations. While we do not actively collect rainwater for use in our operations, the quantities of rainwater and runoff inputs to our operations constitute the majority of our surface water inputs, except at Trail Operations.
(2) Third-party water is water supplied by an entity external to the operation, such as from a municipality. We do not use wastewater from other organizations. 
(3) Other includes water that has evaporated and/or is not recoverable (e.g., contained in ore concentrate or tailings).

How to Read a Water Balance

Water inputs: Water that is received, extracted or managed (i.e., collected and conveyed through an operation’s infrastructure). Water inputs exclude water diverted away from operational areas. Water inputs can come from:

  • Surface water

  • Groundwater

  • Seawater

  • Third-party sources

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

Water outputs: Water that is returned to the environment or is not available for further use after it has been collected, used, treated or stored. The destinations for water outputs include:

  • Surface water

  • Groundwater

  • Seawater

  • Third-party entities

  • Other

Water accumulated: The difference between water inputs and water outputs. This is indicative of the change in the stored water volume at our operations.


Sustainability Spotlight Strategy

In 2016, as part of our 2020 goal to collaborate in developing innovative water technology and practice, we implemented a full-scale trial of saturated fill technology to help address the selenium issues in areas of the Elk Valley.

View our full goals progress report on Our Sustainability Strategy page.

Outlook for Water Management

In 2017, Teck will continue to work towards protecting and improving water quality near our steelmaking coal operations in Canada, collaborate with communities to ensure equitable access to water in water-stressed regions near our operations in Chile, and advance our knowledge on the groundwater we use and potentially affect. To affirm our commitment to water management, we created a new role, Director of Water, to lead our efforts. In early 2017, we also established a cross-company water steering committee, chaired by the Director. As we move forward, we will focus on achieving our 2020 water goals and supporting SDG 6 to promote the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

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