Case Studies

These case studies illustrate how Alcoa is acting upon its commitment to sustainable development throughout the world. We are pleased with this progress, but look forward to achieving even more.

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A pit before being reclaimed into a lake
A pit before being reclaimed into a lake
A finished lake
A finished lake


USA - 2011

Texas Mine Reclamation Project Prepares Land for Productive Use


An award-winning US$55 million reclamation program that ran concurrent with 54 years of surface coal mining at Alcoa’s Sandow Mine in Texas (USA) has returned the land to pre-mining condition and prepared it for future productive use.


Sandow Mine, located an hour east of Austin, Texas, provided more than 200 million tons of lignite coal to Alcoa’s Rockdale Power Plant, which fueled the company’s nearby aluminum smelter. Alcoa managed the mine from 1952 until the end of active mining in 2005, and the company currently is overseeing the final stages of the reclamation process.


The mine, power plant, and temporarily idled smelter sit on more than 14,000 hectares (35,000 acres) of Alcoa-owned land. Of this, more than 4,500 hectares (11,000 acres) were disturbed for mining.


Coal was mined in long open surface pits that that could reach upwards of two kilometers (7,000 feet) in length and 183 meters (200 yards) in width. Once an area was fully mined, Alcoa was required by government regulations to re-grade the land to its original contour within 90 days and have vegetation growing in the first available planting cycle. When active mining stopped in 2005, only around 600 hectares (1,500 acres) of disturbed land needed to be reclaimed. The mine will not be considered inactive until the now fully reclaimed land goes through the required stability demonstration period, which could last through 2017.


Alcoa engaged the community throughout the reclamation process, primarily via a citizen advisory panel that has been in place since 2003.


“Alcoa had a lot of input from the community and conducted many tours of the ongoing operations and the reclamation,” said Walter Pond, retired superintendent of the Rockdale Independent School District. “It was very, very easy for the community to know what was going on at all times.”


The reclaimed land now nurtures hundreds of thousands of native trees and grasslands typically found in the area a hundred years ago. Alcoa also planted hay for use in the reclamation process and to sell to the community. Portions of the land are leased to area ranchers for agricultural use, and onsite bee hives help with an accelerated pollination program. In addition, Alcoa implemented an extensive wildlife habitat program, introducing wild turkeys, releasing bobwhite quail, and nurturing the white-tail deer population.


Recent years included transforming large pit areas into nine lakes, each of which averages 60 hectares (150 acres) in size. Alcoa has stocked each lake with a variety of fish, including striped bass, largemouth bass, hybrid bass, catfish, bluegill, and perch. The shorelines were planted with cattails and reeds for both erosion control and wildlife cover and nesting areas.


“It is very, very impressive what Alcoa has done, because we don’t have the best of land in this area,” said Janie Amescua, resident. “I am particularly amazed by the company’s willingness to put so much money into the reclamation and to carefully abide by the state requirements. You can tell by talking to any of the managers that they really care.”


In 1998, the Sandow Mine reclamation project earned the inaugural Best of the Best Award from the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. The project also received, among other awards, the 2001-2002 Lone Star Land Steward Award from Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Private Lands Advisory Board.


Alcoa currently is determining the future of the land. Options include selling the land, donating a portion of it, or a combination of both. The company has indicated it is willing to consider donating land if the local county government and citizen’s group can develop a recreational facility on one of the lakes.


“I would love to see a public park developed on the land,” said Bill Cooke, owner of the Rockdale Reporter newspaper. “There’s enough space to develop a golf course and offer all kinds of water recreation. Alcoa has done a great job restoring the land over many decades. When my oldest son was in Cub Scouts, he helped plant pine seedlings at the mine site. Now there is a whole forest of pine trees.”

ATC National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit Limits
Permit Parameter
NPDES Monthly Average Limit
ATC NEWT Effluent Average
Carbonaceous Biochemical Oxygen Demand (CBOD-5) 25 mg/L 3.8 mg/L
Suspended Solids 30 mg/L 1.2 mg/L
Ammonia Nitrogen 2.0 mg/L (summer)
4.0 mg/L (winter)
0.1 mg/L
Dissolved Oxygen 5.0 mg/L min 7.8 mg/L
Fecal Coliform 200* colony forming unit (cfu)/100 mL (summer)
2,000* cfu/100 mL (winter)
22* cfu/100 mL
pH 6 minimum; 9 maximum 7.8
*Geometric mean