Posted on March 1, 2023
The sand and gravel reserves sitting at the bottom of lakes, rivers and other bodies of water are the lifeblood of any dredging operation.
These raw materials are limited, so operators want to make the most out what they have available. Many times, however, doing so is easier said than done.
Just as stone quarries have permits they must obtain and abide by, so, too, do dredging operations. These permits outline where and how deep operators may dig, as well as what must be done with the water after dredging materials.
Operators can seek out permits that increase their maximum mining depth, but this can be an arduous process in many cases, says Supreme Manufacturing’s Elliot Archibald. In some cases, though, he says states are slowly expanding permitting.
“While I am not a permitting expert, I am yet to hear producers in any state say that permits are getting easier to get,” says Archibald, who serves Supreme Manufacturing as vice president of sales and marketing. “More often than not, customers tell me their state has at least started to issue new permits or approve revisions to existing permits, where, recently, no new permitting action was being taken.”
When permits or revisions to previous ones are hard to come by, operations will often revisit past dredge locations, Archibald says.
“The majority of sand and gravel operations in the U.S. often have shorter lifespans than crushed stone quarries, which means producers are always looking for new sites either to purchase or develop,” he says. “With new locations being harder to find and even harder to develop due to ever-changing permitting requirements and other regulatory hurdles, producers are beginning to go back and reevaluate old properties, as well as existing pits, to reassess the true value of the deposit.”
What’s available right now
Still, reevaluating a site can again bring about permitting issues if the deposit proves to have previously unaccounted for reserves, Archibald says. Should an operator obtain a permit or revision allowing them to dig deeper, another hurdle could still be in their way: equipment and technology.
“While dredging may seem fairly straight forward, mining aggregates under water is extremely challenging – both from a technological standpoint, as well as having to manage the daily obstacles that present themselves from variations in geology within a deposit,” Archibald says. “Bottom line, everything is tougher out on the water, so any advancements in technology are always welcomed by the industry.”
Archibald says several emerging technology developments could make operations easier and more efficient.
“Automation is key,” he says. “When you have the labor shortages that have affected all of us, being able to provide the most operator-friendly equipment possible to an already complex environment is roundly welcomed by our customers. The easier we can make this equipment to operate and train on, the better it is for everyone.
“Customers are also excited about sonar and GPS technology being offered as an option,” Archibald adds. “Being able to catalogue where you have dug and to what depth, as well as being able to see the bottom of the lake with a degree of accuracy previously thought to be outside the realm of possibility or practicality, has been a game changer for dredging in aggregate operations.”