Sand and Gravel Pits (on Private Land)

Sand & Gravel Program Review

Surface material extraction is necessary to build our infrastructure and will continue to play an essential role in Alberta’s future. Pit operations are regulated by Alberta Environment and Parks and produce surface materials such as sand and gravel with a small number producing marl and clay. These surface materials are important non-renewable resources for Alberta’s economy and are found on public and private land. Extracting these materials must balance the economic and public benefits for Albertans while upholding high environmental standards to maintain biodiversity and healthy aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

The department is committed to updating surface material extraction programs to reflect improvements in scientific knowledge as well as Albertans’ changing regulatory expectations. The department has been conducting a review and developed draft recommendations to improve oversight and efficiencies in Alberta’s surface material extraction program.

Thank you to all that submitted recommendations for the review. We appreciate your feedback.

Sand and gravel are non-renewable resources used extensively for roads and building materials, often involving land disturbance to create a pit. As defined in Alberta's Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act a pit is an opening, excavation or working of the surface or subsurface of the land to remove any sand, gravel, clay or marl. The term includes stockpiles.

Regulation of Pits on Private Land

Class I pits

  • Five hectares or more in area
  • Subject to the Code of Practice for Pits or an existing approval under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act
  • Approximately 900 Class I pits on private land in Alberta

Class II pits

  • Less than five hectares (on private land)
  • Subject to the requirements of the Act and the Conservation and Reclamation Regulation
  • Operators must comply with all requirements of the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and its regulations and applicable Codes of Practice as well as the Alberta Water Act and all other applicable provincial and federal laws

The Guide to the Code of Practice for Pits explains how sand, gravel, clay or marl are regulated:

Municipalities may require approvals for rezoning and development permits. The permit allows the municipality to decide pit locations, hours of operation, buffers, noise, dust, haul routes,and traffic control. Operators must also have written permission from all registered owners of the land on which the pit (and other facilities) are located.

Sand and gravel extraction

Well-planned operations determine the extent of overburden (surface material) and the sand and gravel (aggregate) deposits using auger drilling, backhoes, or both. Type, distribution, thickness and variability of deposits are recorded. Quality of the materials is established along with their size, the extent of waste material and their position in relation to the water table. Volumes of materials to be extracted are estimated and operations planned to maximize efficiency.

In typical washing operations, screens remove large materials. Hydro-separators wash away silt, clay, soil, organic and other very fine particles from the aggregate. Further screening can be done to separate gravel, coarse sand and fine sand depending on the grade of product desired. This system requires settling ponds and a pit water collection system.

Minimizing environmental impacts

Particularly beside creeks, rivers, lakes and other bodies of water, slumping can be a sign of stability problems. A geotechnical assessment or evaluation may be required. Stability may also be an important consideration in ensuring safety of operations.

Pit construction and operation activities expose land to erosion that can lead to an accumulation of silt in rivers, lakes and other bodies of water, thereby degrading the environment and resulting in topsoil loss. Erosion control must be given serious consideration during development and planning stages.

Vegetation is one widely used control for water and wind erosion. Buffer zones of undisturbed vegetation of varying widths around pit operations enhance safety, prevent erosion and silting, reduce noise and dust, provide wildlife corridors and make an area look more attractive.

When pit development encroaches on urban and residential areas, dust may become a concern. Air monitoring equipment may be required to monitor exposure levels. (Dust is defined as a "substance" under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and must be controlled.)

Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) expects industry to continuously review operating practices and equipment to improve environmental performance. Samples of discharged pit water must be collected and analyzed for pH and total suspended solids; presence of oil and gas must be evaluated and the registration or approval holder must record and retain copies of all sample analyses.

Areas of focus for continuous improvement aim to minimize the development's footprint, the disturbance of sensitive environments, water use and dust, noise and contamination and to maximize resource extraction, improved effectiveness of soil handling equipment and processes, direct placement of topsoil and speed of progressive reclamation.


Progressive reclamation is recommended during pit operation as it may take two to three years to return the land to an equivalent capability. Once a development stage is completed, overburden and subsoil can be directly placed into depleted pit areas to achieve the contour grade for reclamation. Reclamation should focus on restoring gentle landforms, establishing equivalent drainage and reconstructing an acceptable soil. Reclaimed land surfaces must be at least one metre above the water table's shallowest depth. A Reclamation Certificate is required under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act.

The end land use for the pit should be decided during the planning stage, in consultation with the landowner. This is based on an assessment of the type of operation, its location and surrounding uses. The end use usually dictates the sloping requirements. Some typical end uses include: cultivation, hay land, pasture, native grassland, forest, wildlife habitat, water bodies, and industrial or residential subdivisions.

Using the land for commercial forestry is suitable where the adjacent land use is commercial forestry or native forest growth is present. A pit's depth may limit forest production. Reclaiming a pit for wildlife habitat usually involves creating a diverse environment that meets the needs of many species. Rolling, hummocky terrain with random patterns and irregular slopes, edges and contours is more suitable than flat unprotected terrain. Sometimes surface water bodies are created (e.g., fisheries, wildlife, recreation, stock watering, etc.).


AEP inspectors conduct random, unannounced and planned inspections. These are more frequent where a pit has a history of non-compliance or if it is in an area with environmental issues or public concerns.


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Updated: Jan 25, 2018