Pipes now discharge mine wastewater at a rate of up to 52 million litres per day
Hazeltine Creek after the Mount Polley disaster. © Bonnie Glambeck
August 4 will mark the day, five years ago, when the tailings pond of the Mount Polley mine breached, dumping the equivalent of 10,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools-worth of copper and gold mining wastewater into nearby Quesnel Lake.
The remote, glacially fed lake – the deepest in BC and claimed to be the ninth deepest in the world – sits nearly centred and slightly east of a line drawn between Prince George and Kamloops. The lake is an important nursery for Pacific salmon and home to trophy-size rainbow trout, lake trout and Dolly Varden.
“Approximately four million salmon annually move through the Fraser River watershed, and 30% of those come from Quesnel Lake,” said Judith Pringle of the group Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake, in a webinar presentation in May.
Imperial Metals, the owner of Mount Polley mine, has faced no fines, no penalties, and no charges in connection with the disaster. On the contrary, Imperial Metals was granted a permit to forego a tailings dam altogether.
“In 2017 the Ministry of Environment (MOE) very quietly gave the mine a permit to build a pipeline from [their] treatment plant, taking all of their mine waste water directly into Quesnel Lake,” Pringle said.
The treatment plant feeding the pipeline removes sediment, nitrates, and phosphates. Not removed from the wastewater are possible contaminants such as copper, selenium, aluminum, iron, and lead, said Pringle.
Twin two-foot diameter pipes now discharge mine wastewater at a rate of up to 52 million litres per day.
“Other mines can remove copper and various other metals,” said Pringle. “It’s not a difficult process, it is not expensive, but the Ministry of Environment continues to treat Polley as a special case.” MORE