The Mt. Polley mine disaster of 2014 in British Columbia continues to be an unresolved catastrophe for local residents and the broader environment of the area. Despite heavy domestic and international media coverage of the problem calling for government action, ongoing unregulated industrial practices threaten natural resources that are a key component of the Canadian economy.
In a recent piece for the Huffington Post on the two year anniversary of the disaster, First Nations spokesperson and activist Jacinda Mack described how in 2014, a dam holding a massive mountainside tailings pond filled with copper and gold mining wastewater failed. The resulting flood dumped into Quesnel Lake, sending an estimated 6.3 billion gallons of Arsenic and Selenium contaminated process water and heavy metal mine tailings into what was historically rated as one of BC’s most pristine water sources.
Fly Fisherman magazine Senior Editor Ross Purnell put the subject front and center via an Op-Ed piece featured in the current print edition of the magazine. Ross outlined the issue and it’s impacts, describing the devastating consequences for BC outfitter and lodge owner Skeed Borkowski and his wife Sharon. The Borkowski’s Northern Lights Lodge on Quesnel lake had operated for over 20 years, hosting fly fisherman from all over the world coming to fish for native Gerrard-strain Rainbows that grew to 30lbs in the protein-rich drainages surrounding the lake, an ecosystem supporting some of BC’s strongest Sockeye Salmon runs. After the Mt. Polley disaster, business dried up, along with the Borkowski’s financial future.
People all over the area are in the same boat, and locals are sharply critical of the lack of government response, and it looks like business as usual is proceeding for the owners of Mt. Polley mine. No fines or resultant restrictive regulation have been enforced by the government, and it has come to light that controlling interests in the mine have made significant financial contributions — on the order of half a million dollars — to the British Columbian Liberal party, a center-right political entity headed by BC Premier Christy Clark.
It now appears that after two years of being cut an astonishing amount of slack by the government, the management of Mt. Polley has become emboldened enough to push for yet more concessions. In a press release dated December 1, 2016, Jacinda Mack expressed outrage at the latest regulatory gambit and made a call to action.
“Mount Polley Mine now has an open application to discharge wastewater into the already seriously impacted Quesnel Lake, and to ground water via Bootjack Lake as the long-term solution to their pollution. First Nations and local citizens of Quesnel Lake have expressed their deep concern for the mine to stop the contaminated discharges in an effort to protect us all – including downstream communities, businesses, and food security and dwindling populations of Fraser River salmon that are born in Quesnel Lake.”
Mack continued, “I am reaching out to you for support letters during this comment period to require from the BC Ministry of Environment that, at minimum, Mount Polley Mine meet all water quality guidelines at the end of pipe, without needing to dilute it in the waterways of the Quesnel Lake/Bootjack Lake/ Fraser River watershed, as part of the long term water management plan. Comments are due by December 23, 2016.”
“There are numerous outstanding issues at Mount Polley Mine, but this is a time-sensitive problem and we must demand strong environmental protections for clean water. Our collective future, and that of our children, depends on it. “
Please take a few minutes to review the information below and use the provided government link to voice your concern about the planned waste water discharge and to support the call for full treatment to remove and contaminants. You are being asked to do three things:
• Use the link below to send you comments to the government before by Dec 23, 2016
• Share this with your friends, family and colleagues and encourage them to also write.
• Help us keep track of the letters going to the government, by sending a copy of your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please submit comments with the subject line “Comments on technical assessment report” to: MtPolleyEnvironmental.Enquiries@gov.bc.ca
Due Dec. 23, 2016
Content: Please use you own words, but clearly state you opposition to the wastewater discharge proposal and your support for full water treatment measure to be taken before any wastewater is discharged. To further assist you, page three highlights some of the concerns and facts surrounding this discharge application.
ONGOING ISSUES & CONCERNS about Mount Polley Mine
The following are Mount Polley concerns expressed at public and First Nation community meetings in the Cariboo Region, most recently at Likely, (Oct. 30), and Williams Lake Indian Band (Nov. 14.)
• End of pipe discharge proposed does not meet water quality guidelines and depends on Quesnel Lake to “treat” the pollution by diluting it. Assumes Quesnel Lake will never become saturated with mine pollution over time.
• The Long Term Water Management Plan does not mention removing mine tailings deposited in Quesnel Lake, Polley Lake, and along the forest edges of Hazeltine Creek as a result of the Aug. 4, 2014 disaster. So far, the long-term plan is to simply leave them.
• No one knows the long-term effects of tailings deposits on human health, resident trout, salmon nurseries, birds and wildlife in the watershed and beyond. Adding more polluted wastewater to this system does not make sense.
• Quesnel Lake drains into the Fraser watershed, and could further impact salmon spawning grounds and future runs in these waters. Initial impacts will remain unknown until at least 2018, due to the 4-year salmon cycle. 2016 was a very poor salmon year.
• Quesnel Lake residents are afraid to drink Quesnel Lake water and now have severe water filter problems (post disaster), yet the mine denies the mine is associated with this.
• The discharge permit request states a 4-year operating period, but an expansion plan exists to operate the mine for ten or more years. (M200 permit)
• Mount Polley does not have a proven system in place to treat mine water after it closes, but are asking for approvals anyway and hopefully have it in place by the time they close.
• There appears to be an attempt to rush this permit. Initially the public was given only 30 days to respond to the complex 1,200 page Long Term Water Management Plan Application. Likely and Xat’sull members helped get this extended. It was first approved as a temporary permit that is valid until November 2017.
• There is an ongoing criminal investigation regarding the Aug.4, 2014 disaster and MPM operations- with no set date for an announcement on findings.
• Xat’sull First Nation, Williams Lake Indian Band, Tsilhqot’in Nation Government, Likely residents and businesses, and MiningWatch Canada have all filed papers to sue Mount Polley and the BC government.
• The globally accepted United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People regarding Free, Prior & Informed Consent has not been followed- which states that CONSENT must be given by indigenous peoples to projects in their lands.
• The government’s actions regarding Mount Polley will set precedent for future mining operations in BC and beyond.