Canadian contractor Aquatech scrambles expert emergency teams and a wide array of job-specific equipment to drive a growing dewatering service in the mining sector
Aquatech Pump and Power, Inc. is a Canadian contracting business establishing a reputation for quick responses to emergency dewatering and bypass pumping service calls.
The company’s headquarters is located in Concord, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto, but located within striking distance of mining operations in the province’s north. A planned satellite office will place it directly in the heart of Ontario mining country.
Aligning itself with a major equipment supplier and dealer helps the company access the tools and expertise it needs without risking too much capital. Aquatech is the distributor for Godwin Pumps of America in Ontario, Nunavut, Newfoundland and Eastern Labrador, all resource-rich territories. A recent purchase of Godwin by ITT Corporation has expanded the lineup of mine sector pumps.
The company is also a distributor for Hudig Pumps throughout Canada and the U.S., which has given Aquatech access to its oilless diesel and electric pumps for environmentally sensitive applications.
Aquatech concentrates on establishing close relationships with regulators, understanding complex environmental regulations and building a deep knowledge of dewatering and bypass methods and technologies.
“In many cases, a lot of industrial development has caused regulators to lose confidence in growth supported by a knowledge of environmental regulation,” says Andy Ingriselli, president of Aquatech. “It’s up to companies like ours to show them that we can help support growth in mining or any industry while protecting the environment. We keep up on all of the recent regulations, and we keep an open line of communication between the regulators and ourselves.”
The company is rapidly expanding its mining sector services, including quarry and mine dewatering, and tailing pond fluid transfer pumping. In addition to mining calls, the company serves the construction industry, with offerings that include sewage and creek bypass pumping, contract dewatering, pond drainage, water main testing and flushing and new construction development. About 20 percent of the company’s contracts constitute emergency jobs.
“Mine dewatering is an entirely different type of business from construction, because most mine operations are planned much farther in advance,” says Ingriselli. “Mine operators already know what type of water infiltration they’ll be dealing with as they excavate a new pit or quarry. We may still need to deliver the pumps on short notice, but we often understand what we need to do long before we get there.”
ACCESS TO PUMPS A KEY
Access to a variety of pumps, hoses and connectors is key to serving the mining sector. Some mine locations have no access to the electrical power required to operate the pumps, so diesel units are used. For dewatering deep shafts and tunnels, the contractor uses specialized high head electrical pumps that can remove water from as deep as 2,000 feet. Aquatech may also be asked to supply hoses and connectors that work with existing dewatering infrastructure.
In some cases, the most effective dewatering plan involves a combination of diesel and submersible electric pumps. For cold-weather jobs, pump operations require heat tracing along the discharge pipe to ensure it doesn’t freeze up. Aquatech has offered dewatering services in weather as cold as -60 degrees F.
But knowing how and where to apply the pumps is critical.
“Anyone can throw pumps at a mine dewatering project,” says Ingriselli. “But the regulatory agencies are empowered to shut down any project they see as threatening the environment. We can do the assessment, apply for the permits, check the environmental regulations, deliver the equipment, operate it, and then decommission the job. We work closely with environmental consultants and engineers to make sure we understand what we’re doing.”
In Ontario, environmental regulations are generated at the federal, provincial and municipal levels, and regional conservation authorities also take some responsibility. The Ontario Water Resources Act provides significant challenges. Designed to protect groundwater, the regulations prevent any party, including dewatering contractors, from removing in excess of 13,000 gallons of water from provincial aquifers in a single day without a water-taking permit. That includes mine dewatering operations.
DISPLACE A LAKE
“If you have a lake at the bottom of an open pit mine or quarry, it’s not enough to say you have the pumps to remove that water,” says Ingriselli. “Where are you going to put that water? For some quarries you’re easily displacing 10 million gallons in a single day.
“In many cases, you have to create a lake to displace a lake and it needs to be designed in such a way as to deal with all of the local environmental sensitivities, including impact on wildlife and other watercourses,” he continues. “We also need to guarantee that we’re pumping only clean water with no sediment from excavations, pumping from the top down. The suction hose must always float on top of the water and never sink to the bottom.”
If water is being diverted to an existing body of water, Aquatech engineers work with environmental regulators to fashion an acceptable dewatering plan. A marine biologist may be called in to determine the baseline turbidity of a lake or stream to ensure that dewatering operations have little impact on the environment and local fish populations.
“In some cases you have to gently remove local wildlife,” he says. “On one recent project, two beavers had moved into the quarry. That the mine operators placed such an emphasis on protecting local wildlife is a good thing, but it was a very expensive operation, holding up mining production for hours as we waited to catch a couple of beavers.”
The company is currently working on newer wellpoint dewatering technology, in which groundwater is extracted from multiple wells installed into the area requiring excavation. Instead of discharging to a sewer or surface feature, the discharge is redirected back into the aquifer, below ground. These tools are commonly used to dewater overburden to facilitate the construction of supporting infrastructure on mine sites, as well as dewatering in support of open pit mines and mine shafts.
“Effectively it is like taking the water out of the ground from the area of planned work and putting it back in to the ground somewhere else,” he says.
Extraction of groundwater requires environmental permits, as does the discharge if groundwater is re-injected into an aquifer.
“The water quality must meet the same stringent objectives of provincial standards,” says Ingriselli. “Typically this means it must be pristine. Treatment of the discharge water is always a consideration, whether discharged to the surface or into the aquifer.”
Aquatech also specializes in pumping equipment designed for use in heavy-duty pumping applications, such as pumping slurries with a high content of abrasive solids. The company has recently become the Eastern Canada distributor for Italian pump manufacturer Dragflow.
“These pumps are very effective when transferring the material in a tailings pond for the purposes of maintaining, cleaning or recapturing the tailings themselves,” says Ingriselli. “Dragflow slurry pumps are specifically designed to pick up solids, mixing them into a high density slurry and pumping them all in one operation. With these units, we can pump as much as 70 percent solids by weight, with slurries containing solids as large as five inches in diameter.”
BUILDING A REPUTATION
Although some contract leads are supplied by the dealer network, Aquatech promotes itself largely by word of mouth, and its mobile fleet features an aggressive corporate design. “There’s no better way to promote yourself than to provide your services professionally,” says Ingriselli. “Most dewatering opportunities in this industry are generated from relationships established, and the experience, recognition and reputation of the dewatering services provider.”
The company is opening a full-service branch in Sudbury, Ontario, this year. “This branch will develop into our main depot for pumping services related to mine applications,” says Ingriselli. “It will offer a variety of services immediately, including a full line of diesel, electric and hydraulic pumps available for sale or rental, as well as full turnkey services utilizing the equipment for fluid transfer and dewatering services.”
One challenge for the business is finding employees willing to drop what they’re doing and head to work for emergencies or to travel to remote locations. Some mine dewatering contracts require only a few workers to operate the pumps that have been patched into an existing system. The largest mine dewatering operation requires a dozen people to operate the entire system, as they set up camp to remain for weeks on a 24/7 basis.
“It takes a special kind of dedication to leave the house just as the roast is coming out of the oven and your family is sitting down to Sunday dinner,” says branch manager Norm Metcalfe. “You can have all the pumps in the world, and all the support from distributors, but we’ve got nothing if we don’t have people at all levels, from engineers, to truck yard, to sales to the executives, ready to step up to the plate and assume responsibility for their part of the operation.”