$800K Secured to Continue Research into Mt. Polley Breach
Prince George, B.C. – About $800,000 in federal funds will allow researchers at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) to “up their game” when it comes to their research of the August 2014 tailings pond breach at the Mt. Polley Mine in Likely.
It’s the first block of external funding researchers have received and will be used to continue their work at the Dr. Max Blouw Quesnel River Research Centre.
The money comes from the Government of Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund (EDF) which is based on a polluter pays principle and ensures that court-awarded penalties for environmental violations are used for projects that will restore or improve the environment.
UNBC says the funding comes from a fine levied in 2014 related to a tailings pond breach in Northern Quebec.
“This significant source of funding for our research now means that we can do many of the medium to long-term monitoring and sampling programs that we were hoping to do,” says Dr. Phil Owens.
“It also means that we can bring in a group of collaborators from the University of British Columbia, the University of Lethbridge and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to do a more comprehensive assessment of the physical, the chemical and the biological impacts of the breach.”
Up until now he says UNBC has provided “bridge funding” to ensure research could commence during the interim (he isn’t sure of the exact amount but Owens calls it a “six figure sum). Owen says researchers have also received smaller donations from a few organizations in the region.
That research started just moments after the breach occurred and was shared at an open house at the Dr. Max Blouw Quesnel River Research Centre in October 2014. Owens and his colleague Dr. Ellen Petticrew also published a paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters (which was also co-authored with other Quesnel Lake researchers) in May 2015.
With the use of EDF funds Owens says a research team brought in a specialized corer on loan from the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Halifax to collect samples of tailings and sediment at the bottom of the lake this summer.
Owen says the new block of federal funding will allow them to “up their game”. He says it’s for three years but expects research to continue much longer than that.
“Because the Quesnel River Research Centre is so close to where the mine spill occurred, I envision that we will be doing work for 5-10 years or perhaps even longer,” he says.
“The fact it takes a long time to see the real picture, particularly when you’re looking at the ecosystem as a food web, that can take many years in order to understand the full picture.