Mount Polley mine and its owners, Imperial Metals Corporation, made international headlines in August of 2014 when the dam containing the mine's tailings storage facility failed, sending millions of cubic meters of mining waste water and potentially toxic sediments surging through Hazeltine Creek and into the Quesnel Lake watershed, a major tributary of the Fraser River.
Now Mount Polley is back in the headlines, with the BC government granting the mine a license to discharge treated waste water from a pipe located roughly 30-40 meters below the surface of Quesnel Lake.
Still under investigation by BC Conservation Officers and the RCMP for their role in the worst environmental disaster in modern Canadian history, Mount Polley was granted a permit to begin limited restart of operations in the summer of 2015 using Springer Pit for temporary storage of wet tailings and waste water. However, Springer Pit is nothing more than an unlined pit left over from previous ore extraction. If the height of water and tailings in the pit reach a height of more than 1,030 meters, there is a risk that the toxic elements in the mine waste could seep into the surrounding groundwater. Alarm bells began to sound mid November, as water levels in the pit reached 1,023.5; just 6.5 meters away from critical.
The mayor of nearby Williams Lake hailed the discharge permit as "an early Christmas present" for local miners, and the BC Minister of Energy and Mines, Bill Bennett, was quick to downplay concerns over allowing the mine to release even more waste water into the Quesnel Lake watershed, assuring BC residents that "the province would not grant a water discharge permit from a mine site unless the province was absolutely certain that the water being discharged would meet the federal drinking water guidelines". However, when asked for clarification on this point by CBC News, the Ministry was forced to admit that the mine's waste water would not actually meet drinking water guidelines until it reached the edge of a 'dilution zone' roughly 100 meters from the point of discharge.
In other words, the waste water being discharged by Mount Polley won't meet drinking water guidelines until it is diluted by the water body it's being pumped into.
Considering the mine's history of poor water management practices on site which almost certainly contributed directly to the August 2014 TSF failure, Fraser Riverkeeper believes that the BC government's decision to grant Mount Polley a permit to discharge waste water into the Fraser River watershed via Quesnel Lake to be both ill-conceived and irresponsible. Decisions such as this, and those allowing the mine to resume operations while still under investigation for major violations of both provincial and federal environmental law, serve only to erode public confidence in the role of our government regulators to safeguard both our natural ecosystems and public health.
Please consider taking a moment of your time to send a message to Bill Bennett, Mary Polak, and Christy Clark telling them that you want to see the BC government do a better job of holding big polluters like Mount Polley to account.