Public Lab Wiki documentation

Observable water quality violations related to frac sand mining

2 | 8 | | #18938

This page includes information about observable permit violations of the frac sand mining industry related to water quality violations.

About Water Quality and Frac Sand Mining

Water pollution can affect anything from the waters we recreate in, to our household drinking water. Water quality in the US is protected by the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA) which “establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters.” For example, the CWA makes it illegal to discharge any pollutant into our streams and rivers without a permit. States are in charge of implementing the CWA.

Sand mines can have multiple interactions with water. The site may be located near a river, stream, or wetland; or groundwater may be encountered as the site is excavated. Potential uses of process water at mines and processing facilities include transporting, cleaning, and sorting sand, as well as dust control.

What can be reported:


  • The dumping or spilling of liquid or solid waste into waterways.
  • The runoff of sand or soil from mining sites (or trains, or vehicles) into waterways.
  • Changes in smell or color of a waterway.

Tap water: (these can be reported to the local county contacts, see the Local Reporting page)

  • Changes in smell, taste, or appearance of tap water.
  • Reduction in water pressure or the amount of available water.
  • Changes in the chemical makeup of your water (for example, if you use water filters, and you find you need to replace them more often).

Helpful information to collect for reporting:

  • Dated photographs including, location and if possible, geographic coordinates.
  • Source of the water pollution:
    • Can you identify the sources of pollution? If so, what is it?
    • Can you identify what the material is that’s going into the water?
  • Nature of the pollution:
    • How intense is the pollution?
    • Is there anything notable about the pollution (color, odor)?
  • Other impacts:
    • Do you see impacts around the waterway, for example, dead fish, an oil sheen?

Who to report to in Wisconsin:

  • The DNR state and/or regional departments (see DNR Reporting page)
  • Local contacts (see Local Reporting page)

Further information on Relevant Policies:

All industrial sites greater than one acre are required to have a stormwater discharge permit at least 14 working days prior to any construction activities. NR 216.22
All industrial sites greater than one acre are required to have a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan NR 216.27
Any violation of the stormwater discharge permit issued (Spill) is grounds for enforcement action or denial of continued coverage under a general permit. 216.004
Process water may not be discharged to any well including any bored, drilled or driven shaft, dug hole whose depth is greater than its largest surface dimension, improved sinkhole or subsurface fluid distribution system. NR 815
Water supplier for community water systems shall deliver to their customers an annual report containing information on the quality of the water and the characterization of risks, if any, from exposure to contaminants detected in the drinking water delivered by their public water system. The report shall be written in an accurate and understandable manner. This is relevant because if a mining or processing operation provides drinking water to more than 25 people it falls under the definition of a public water system which is regulated by the Department to assure safe reliable drinking water. NR 809.83
Before the surface of a non-metallic mining site can be disturbed, there is a requirement that all necessary measures are in place to prevent pollution of surface water, groundwater, and soil runoff. There must also be a plan in place for reclamation and revegetation. This includes a reclamation permit from the county in which the facility is located. NR 135
Though at certain concentrations, substances may not be toxic to humans, but may impart undesirable taste or odour to water or aquatic organisms ingested by humans. The taste and odour criterion is applied to prevent substances from concentrating in surface waters or accumulating in aquatic organisms to a level which results in undesirable tastes or odours to human consumers. NR 102.14(1)
New bridges or culverts or replacements of existing bridges and culverts spanning navigable waterways, shall maintain a clearance of not less than 5 feet. NR 320.04(1)