Groundwater is a common problem when mining, and developing a mine below groundwater level
presents many challenges. Poorly controlled groundwater will have negative impacts on the safety,
efficiency and economics of mining operations.
If groundwater can be controlled by a planned programme of dewatering, the mine site will typically see
several benefits, including;
• More efficient working conditions: better trafficking and diggability, reduced downtime due to pit flooding
• Reduced blasting costs: lowering groundwater levels in advance of working will provide dry blast holes, reducing the need for more costly emulsion explosives
• Lower haulage costs: Dry ore and waste rock weigh less than wet material, so dewatering of rock provides a haulage cost saving
• Improved slope stability and safety: lowering of groundwater levels and reduction in pore water
pressures can allow steeper slope angles to be used, while maintaining or increasing factors of safety.
Successful dewatering requires a hydrogeological assessment of the mine site. This may be achieved through desk study, borehole investigations, pumping tests and numerical modelling. It is also essential that the most appropriate dewatering techniques are selected and used, because the choice of technique can have a huge influence on the effectiveness of the dewatering.
Mine dewatering can be achieved using a range of groundwater control techniques, depending on the geology and the type of mine:
• In-pit pumping – used to pump from sump areas within the pit
• Perimeter dewatering wells – used to intercept lateral groundwater flow into the pit and to lower groundwater levels in advance of mining
• Pit slope depressurisation drains – inclined or horizontal drains used to provide permeable pathways to allow trapped or slowly draining groundwater behind pit slopes to bleed off into the pit
• Cut-off walls – slurry walls used to exclude groundwater from shallow alluvial or drift deposits, or to seal off preferential flow along permeable strata
• Grouting and artificial ground freezing – used to seal off preferential groundwater pathways, or to reduce ground permeability in advance of shaft sinking or roadway development.
Surface water must also be controlled to allow efficient mining operations. Runoff from the surrounding land surface must be diverted away from the mine, for example by using collector drains and diversion bunds. Within a mine any surface water must be controlled by the drains and sumps to collect the water away from working areas.