• 94% of the water drawn for pulp operations is returned to the environment
    • Mechanical pulp mills use 23m3 of water per tonne of production
    • Kraft pulp (NBSK) mills use 114m3 of water per tonne of production

Water as a Shared Resource

Water is a carefully managed resource throughout our operations and West Fraser is a responsible steward of water. Water use is managed and monitored in our manufacturing operations, with wetlands, stream and watercourse protection managed under strict regulations integrated with sustainable forest management activities and land-use planning. We contribute to collaborative research to support the science of hydrology and inform our management of watersheds.

West Fraser’s pulp facilities, which are more water-intensive operations that solid wood mills, are not located in areas that have been classed as water-stressed. Water stewardship is part of our Environmental Policy. Reporting on water as it relates to sustainable forestry is integrated in Wildlife, Habitat Management & Biodiversity of this report.

Supporting Communities & Water Sanitation

Pulp operations are designed to manage and treat large volumes of water, and West Fraser extends that valuable experience beyond our mill operations. Two of the Company’s pulp mill water treatment systems provide treatment of water in communities where the plants are located. These mills treat the facility’s wastewater as well as that from the community and nearby industrial facilites, with one also providing pre-treatment of surface water prior to preparation as potable for the community.

Another innovation quietly operating for about 20 years at Quesnel River Pulp mill is recovering heat from treated effluent to warm the buildings of a local tree seedling greenhouse. The greenhouses grow the native trees seedlings for West Fraser’s planting program. The buildings draw up the heat from the effluent as it passes by the greehouses. This better regulates the reduction of the temperature of the treated water returning to the environment, while reducing GHG emissions and lowering the nursery’s heating costs by displacing purchased energy.

Water Use in Manufacturing Operations

Water consumption is greatly influenced by the different production processes for the products we manufacture. Solid wood mills (lumber and engineered wood) use little process water compared to the volume of water required for pulp processing in pulp facilities. Solid wood mills use water for cleaning, fire protection, steam generation, Wet Electrostatic Precipitator (WESP) operation, misters for dust control and to cool equipment. At three sawmill sites, we also employ water in a closed-loop system for the cooling needs of our three biomass-fueled ORC bioenergy systems. 

Water use is most relevant for the higher water demand processes of the pulp operations. Water is used to wash and process pulp, transport it through the mill, cooling process effluent for effective environmental treatment, and for heat and power generation. The total volume of water required in facilities is determined by the type of pulp processing, with mechanical processes requiring five times less water than kraft pulp, but with greater electrical energy requirements.  

Shutdowns and interruptions to the pulp process tend to increase water consumption in pulp mills.  On occasion, pulp mill production may be curtailed to control energy use during volatile periods of high electrical costs.  In 2020, this, and necessary accommodations for COVID health and safety protocols, contributed to longer periods of mill downtime, and elevated water intensity usage at a few of our impacted facilities. 

All of the process water used for pulping is reused several times in our manufacturing processes before it is treated and released back to the environment, with 94% of withdrawn water returned. Water consumption loss is closely tracked, with the largest contributors being steam or evaporative losses, and the moisture of the biosolid residuals from the pulping process. 

Water Intensity: Process Differences

West Fraser produce two types of pulp, Mechanical Pulp via either a Bleached Chemical Thermo-Mechanical Pulp (BCTMP) or Thermo-Mechanical Pulp (TMP) process; and Northern Bleached Softwood Kraft pulp (NBSK) in a kraft pulp process. The type of pulp manufacturing process substantially effects the volume of water required.

Water-Related Collaborations