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Mines continue to put waterways in B.C. at risk

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Major concerns are being raised about the waterways threatened in British Columbia by mining.

The Canadian Press reports:

"British Columbia's auditor general has delivered a scathing report that concludes the government is not properly prepared to protect the environment from potential disasters in the mining industry. ...[The report] 'An Audit of Compliance and Enforcement of the Mining Sector,' took two years to complete, and it questions whether the province can properly protect the environment from risks posed by mines. It says almost all expectations for government compliance and enforcement in the mining industry are not being met."

According to news reports, Auditor General Carol Bellringer found that:

  • "the enforcement and compliance activities of the ministries of energy and mines and environment are not set up to protect the province from environmental risks."
  • "[there are] major gaps in the ministries, citing too few resources and insufficient staff."
  • "[there] were inadequate inspections of mines to ensure operators complied with requirements."
  • "mining companies have not provided government with enough financial security deposits to cover potential reclamation costs if a firm defaults on its obligations."
  • the promotion and compliance functions for mining should not be housed within the same ministry.

The Vancouver Sun notes:

"The [Imperial Metals' Mount Polley] tailings dam failure looms large in her report, not least because it happened when staff from the office of the auditor general had already begun to audit compliance and enforcement by the ministry. ...The collapse of the tailings dam was triggered by weakness in the foundation that had gone undetected for years. But, as well-documented in a 2015 report from a panel of engineering experts, the structure might have survived the slumping of its foundation, were it not for other failings ranging from too much water buildup in the tailings pond to a too-steep slope on the dam face."

The Globe and Mail adds, "The dam failure spilled approximately 25 million cubic metres of waste water and tailings into nearby water systems and lakes in central British Columbia." According to a filing with Environment Canada in 2013, 326 tonnes of nickel, 400 tonnes of arsenic, 177 tonnes of lead and 18,400 tonnes of copper and its compounds had been dumped into the tailings pond.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip has stated:

"Like the Exxon Valdez, Mount Polley will be synonymous with one of the most disastrous environmental events in British Columbia. The frightening fact is both environmental disasters could have been prevented if there was vigorous government oversight by an effectively resourced agency bound by robust legislative and regulatory environmental safeguards."

In June 2015, The Globe and Mail also reported:

"The [B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council] has, for the first time, mapped out the 35 active mine tailings ponds [on 48 key watersheds] in the northern half of the province and traced the potential paths of contaminants from dam failures at any of those sites. The survey found that 80 per cent of the chinook and sockeye salmon in the region are either downstream from a tailings facility or would migrate up a river that could be contaminated. It also concluded that there are risks to the drinking water of 33 First Nations and 208 other communities, including Prince George, Smithers and Terrace."

One week after the August 4, 2014 Mount Polley spill, the Council of Canadians participated in a march to the Vancouver office of Imperial Metals.

Last month, The Globe and Mail reported:

"Effluent from the Mount Polley mine is again flowing into Quesnel Lake in South-Central British Columbia nearly two years after a catastrophic tailings pond breach caused one of the worst mining accidents in Canadian history. In a recent decision, the B.C. government authorized Mount Polley Mining Corp. to bypass a water-treatment plant and temporarily discharge waste water directly into the lake."

On May 27, there will be a protest against Imperial Metals at their annual shareholders meeting in Richmond, B.C.

Photo: Jeremy Board/flickr

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