Sand and Gravel Operation Guidelines

Image of sand and gravel


Sand and gravel extraction is the process of exacting, crushing, washing and screening (sorting by size) sand and gravel from pits and/or hillsides. The practice leaves behind giant holes or pits in the land that can cause NPS pollution to local water bodies. When this form of mining is conducted near potable water recharge areas, it can expose the saturated zone and leave groundwater resources vulnerable to contamination. Furthermore, some abandoned pits have been used as illegal dumping sites for the disposal of solid or liquid wastes and runoff of these contaminants can be detrimental to organisms that come in contact with the pollutants.

There are several best management practices that can be applied to sand and gravel pit extraction. Most practices are used to control erosion and sedimentation. When planning sand and gravel activities, the installation of ditches and dikes should be included to collect wash water and divert runoff. Berms should also be considered as they can keep fuel and soil maintenance areas from contaminating the ground. Finally, land reclamation should follow the completion of extraction activities to enhance the aesthetics of the land while preventing NPS pollution from erosion, sedimentation, and leeching of nutrients (CODWR).

In Massachusetts, municipalities can take a proactive role in regulating resource extraction operations by adopting both zoning and non-zoning bylaws. In absence of specific local bylaws, relatively limited regulatory control over mining exists through the Clean Water Act-National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit process (Massachusetts DEP) and the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act (local Conservation Commission).

Sand and Gravel Pit Design Considerations

  • Topsoil is a valuable commodity to be saved for the land restoration process. Standard procedure is to scrape off and stockpile soil close to the site.
  • The relocation of stockpiles can be very costly, therefore, location of stockpiles should be thoroughly considered prior to extraction to ensure that they will not have to be repositioned.
  • Consider building a system of culvert pipes, ditches, and collection pools to drain surface runoff and prevent erosion.
  • Use fences and gates around the pit to discourage trespassing, livestock, illegal dumping, and theft.
  • Consult with representatives from your local office of the USDA, Soil Conservation Service, and your local Soil Conservation District Office.


These management practices can be applied to any surface mining activities that expose large amounts of soil.


Sand and gravel pit mining is very expensive so it is best to take into consideration all costs before initiating mining activities. It should be noted that restoration of excavated land is the developer’s responsibility and is usually included in cost proposals (INAC, 2002).


Sand and gravel pits should be monitored constantly by the site operator during mining activities to ensure that NPS pollution is kept to a minimum and that all local (where applicable), state and federal regulations are being followed. The municipal Building Inspector should also inspect the site on a regular basis to ensure compliance with local regulations. When mining operations are occurring in proximity to wetland resource areas, inspection by the local Conservation Agent or a member of the Conservation Commission may also be warranted. In cases where illegal dumping on the site has created a potential public health threat or public nuisance, inspection and enforcement activity by the Town Board of Health should occur.


CODWR. General Guidelines for Substitute Water Supply Plans for Sand and Gravel Pits Submitted to the State Engineer, pursuant to SB 89-120 & SB 93-260. Colorado Division of Water Resources.

INAC. Understanding the Sand and Gravel Business. Indian and Northern Affairs - Canada. Accessed August 21, 2002.

NALMS. 2000. Best Management Practices to Protect Water Quality. British Columbia Lake Stewardship Society.

SRWA. Essex Sand and Gravel Pit Photo. Shawsheen River Watershed Association. Accessed August 21, 2002.

Recommended Fact Sheets and Resources

MNPCA. 1997. Water Quality Permitting for Gravel Mining and Hot Mix Asphalt Operations. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

USDA. 2000. Vegetating New Hampshire Sand and Gravel Pits. PM-NH-21. Natural Resource Conservation Service.

WSDE. 2002. Water Quality Program Sand & Gravel General Permit. WA State Department of Ecology. Accessed August 21, 2002.

Massachusetts Citizen Planner Training Collaborative (CPTC) - an excellent resource for information on bylaws related to resource extraction sites and a variety of other issues: