Reclaiming mine land: from coal to crops and conservation areas
What was once a mine settling pond at the Highvale Mine is now a vibrant wetland community donated to the Alberta Fish & Game Association Wildlife Trust Fund for everyone to enjoy. The new Beaver Creek Conservation Site is one of many conservation initiatives occurring in the communities where TransAlta operates.
Reclamation complete at Whitewood Mine
Since 2010, TransAlta has spent close to $20 million completing one of Canada’s largest coal-mine reclamation programs. More than 280,000 trees have been planted on reclaimed land since the closure of the mine. These trees include a variety of upland tree species — aspen, balsam poplar, pine and spruce. Amid large tracts of agriculturally productive lands, there are three end-pit lakes and numerous wetland and wooded areas.
TransAlta’s Whitewood Mine closed in 2010 after 48 years of supplying coal to the nearby Wabamun power plant. The site is located north of Wabamun Lake, about 70 km west of Edmonton, Alberta. All 1,900 hectares of the former mine site have been reclaimed into varying land forms and end land uses. Today, a mix of agricultural, wildlife and wetland habitat is present within the Whitewood Mine footprint.
TransAlta and the Alberta Fish and Game Association Wildlife Trust Fund have established a long-term partnership to conserve reclaimed wetlands and natural areas for wildlife habitat. TransAlta donated 174 hectares of reclaimed land within the Whitewood Mine to the Wildlife Trust Fund as part of the 365 hectare Wabamun Whitewood Conservation property north of the Village of Wabamun.
Reclamation plans for the Whitewood mine were conceptualized long before the mining process began. All resource extraction companies have to outline their reclamation plans before construction and during development. The goal is to return the land to the same agricultural capabilities after development as there was prior to any disturbance. These plans continue to evolve over the course of a project to meet specific regulations and development changes.
“Reclamation of all our mines happen before, during and after the mining process is complete,” says Dan Kuchmak, reclamation planning specialist. “It is and always will remain an integral component of the operation to comply and fulfill obligations to regulators, stakeholders and shareholders.”
At TransAlta’s Highvale Mine located south of Wabamun Lake, reclamation is complete on 1,455 hectares of mined land. Some of the reclaimed land within the Highvale Mine is productive farmland that is leased to local area farmers and ranchers.
Dan Kuchmak is a seasoned veteran when it comes to land reclamation and has played an active role in the transformation underway at the Whitewood Mine.
“Reclamation is a partnership between industry and the regulator to ensure proper reclamation process and certification,” says Kuchmak.
As part of the reclamation process, an application is made to the Alberta Energy Regulator for reclamation certification.
Throughout the reclamation process timeline, TransAlta monitors agricultural production, ground and surface water, erosion, vegetation and weeds to ensure the capability and sustainability of the reclaimed land. Of the 1,900 hectares of mine land reclaimed at Whitewood, 1,130 hectares are certified by the Alberta Energy Regulator.