Quesnel Lake Residents Vehemently Oppose Amended Mine Permit
Prince George, B.C. – Concerned residents of the Quesnel Lake area are expressing alarm at the recent decision of the B.C. Environment Ministry to grant Mount Polley Mining Corporation a permit to pipe diluted wastewater directly into Quesnel Lake.
In what has been called the worst mining disaster in Canadian history, 25 million cubic metres of contaminated waste from the Mount Polley mine made its way down Hazeltine Creek and into Quesnel Lake and other waterways following the breach of a tailings pond at the mine site on August 4th, 2014.
Researchers at UNBC’s Quesnel River Research Centre and counterparts from UBC, the University of Lethbridge and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans are conducting detailed sampling and analysis of the heavy metals and sediment taken from the lake to determine the extent of damage resulting from the breach and spill, but they stress that it will take several years to get a full picture of the damage done.
In the meantime, the Ministry of Environment has now granted Mount Polley Mining a wastewater discharge permit to send diluted wastewater from the mine’s drainage ditches 45 metres deep into the lake.
Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake is a group of residents and landowners who live and recreate right on the lake. Spokesperson Christine McLean says “we’re in a community called Mitchell Bay. We’re the closest to where the actual tailings in the lake are, where Hazeltine Creek comes in.” She says “there’s about 70 on our list today. About 35 to 40 are actual landowners, residents on the lake, and we’ve spent the last year-and-a-half just monitoring what’s going in the lake, the characteristics of the effluent, trends, just tracking it.” She says all of the people get their drinking water from Quesnel Lake.
McLean says the group is “trying to hold the mine and the ministry’s feet to the fire and asking them to explain everything that they’re doing, because we don’t agree with any of the tailings water or tailings being in the lake. We don’t agree that this permit that was issued last week should have been approved.”
“We put up a billboard on Highway 97 in December of last year to try to get community support in opposition of that, and we do whatever we can to try to have our voice heard.” She says they are also in close contact with MiningWatch Canada, FN WARM (First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining), the Likely Chamber of Commerce and other concerned parties.
Photo above, right is of a gorge created on Hazeltine Creek by the tailings flow in Aug. 2014. Hazeltine was a 3 metre wide creek before Aug 4, 2014.
McLean says Mt. Polley “are now allowed, with the permit, to pipe somewhat treated water directly from their treatment plant—this is site contact water, it’s not production water at this point in time—right into Quesnel Lake. Also with this new permit they’ve increased the characteristics of the mining effluent, the metals, hugely. We’re not happy about that either.”
McLean says under the original permit issued in the 1990s the mine was not allowed to discharge water from its site into area waterways “and now they’ve got a permit to discharge directly from the mine site into Quesnel Lake.”
She makes it clear that her group is not opposed to mining per se and understands the significance of area residents having jobs and earning a living at the mine. “This group is not against mining, we understand that the jobs are very important to people in this area. However, I don’t see this permit and this action as being responsible mining. It’s not responsible of this industry, it’s not responsible of this government to allow something like this to happen.”
“Quesnel Lake is one of the deepest fjord lakes in the world. It was pristine, that was one of the words they used for Quesnel Lake all the time. We bought here because we don’t want to live on the Shuswap where you have to shower when you get out of the water because of, well they blame it on the ducks. I don’t. We bought here because we thought in 50 years our grandchildren could still swim and fish and enjoy this pristine water.”
“We’re in what’s called the west basin and that’s where the tailings dam failure happened and the tailings are all sitting in the bottom of the lake. The Mount Polley mine is doing water testing but now, with this new permit and with some changes that they made in December, we were getting weekly reports on what the characteristics of the metals were that they were discharging. Now we’re going to get that every three or four months. It’s going to come out through the Public Liaison committee quarterly.”
She says it’s not the government that is issuing the information through those reports. “The mine is delivering it, and that’s the other problem is that the mine delivers us all of our information basically. It’s called self-monitoring.”
McLean says her group is skeptical about that in the wake of the 2014 spill disaster. “They were in charge of that, it should never have happened. So we should just trust that they’re doing the job now? I don’t think so.”
“We want tighter regulations. I know MiningWatch Canada and some others are trying to change some of the regulations and rules but this self-monitoring? It doesn’t breed trust in us, in any case.”
McLean says “that is how the people who live on this lake feel (about the new permit), like almost speechless. I was recently at a gathering over at Horsefly Lake, which is very close to us and a community that we’re very attached to as well and the people there are speechless as well.”
“This would not be happening on Shuswap Lake or Lake Okanagan or Osoyoos Lake. It’s happening here, I believe, because we’ve only got five or six hundred people on this lake. It’s remote, and it’s really sad, just devastating that they do this and we don’t have a big enough constituency of people to stop them.”
Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake (CCQL) says under the amended permit, the approved discharge amounts are a maximum of 52,000 m3 per day (about 21 Olympic-sized swimming pools per day) or, based on permitted annual average, a total of 53,000,000 m3 over a 5-year period. In its response to the permit approval CCQL states “And considering Mount Polley Mining Corporation has been discharging up to 10,000,000 m3 per year of effluent since the breach, this total is approaching over 4 times the original amount dumped into Quesnel Lake during the Aug. 4, 2014 disaster.”
CCQL demands the Province enlists independent weekly monitoring of Quesnel Lake and surrounding waters, completed remediation of Hazeltine Creek, Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake, installation of effective water treatment and no increase in the levels of permitted metals and other characteristics in the mine waste discharge.