Helicopter view of dam cut the day of the breach shows accumulation of tailings that remains

What we know about the mine spill

Water and sediment tests at Mount Polley have offered some comfort to locals, after typical disaster porn of early media reports

Today I’ll attempt to cut through the speculation and fear-mongering that have swirled around the Mount Polley mine dam breach and tell you what’s really known.

As Black Press and our local publication the Williams Lake Tribune reported before and after the incident, the mine reopened in 2005 after a four-year shutdown and was expanding its operation, including the tailings pond. Rising metal prices helped put 380 unionized employees plus management back to work. Most are now working on rebuilding the tailings dam and cleaning up the spill site.

Imperial Metals applied earlier this summer for an increase in water discharge, and was waiting for B.C. government approval at the time of the Aug. 4 dam breach. This was to be the second amendment to a water release permit issued when the mine started up in 1997. It has had a surplus of water due to rain and snow accumulation since it opened (under an NDP government, for those who want to turn everything into a political corruption story).

The reason water release has been allowed is that in the absence of acid-producing rock, metal contamination of water is minimized. Imperial Metals’ routine tests with rainbow trout in undiluted tailings pond water have now been confirmed by environment ministry results, and water and fish from all but the immediate spill area have been cleared for human consumption.

For an example of acid mine drainage, look up the Britannia Mine Museum, now a reclaimed national historic site with a water treatment plant built to function for hundreds of years. Before that, acid-produced toxic metal pollution drained from the abandoned mine into Howe Sound for decades.

Early tests at Mount Polley indicate that this sort of long-term water remediation may not be required. The initial pulse of suspended sediment didn’t last long enough to affect fish in most of Quesnel Lake, much less the Fraser River system. Sediment tests show elevated iron and copper, with “leachability” results to come. Containment and removal will have to be undertaken.

On May 24 of this year, Mount Polley received the first high water warning in its history. This was not a “breach,” contrary to some reports. The latest water permit application and work to raise the dam took place after that.

It’s not difficult to deduce from aerial photos what was happening as mine management found ways to extend operation, including an underground phase. The pond was filling up with pulverized rock, reducing its capacity to hold water. Most of the accumulation is still there for all to see, as is the cross-section of the dam so abruptly exposed in the wee hours of Aug. 4.

It may be months before inspectors and geotechnical engineers can determine the cause of the breach, which occurred with the water level 2.5 metres below the top of the dam, well within permit specifications. Either the design of the earthworks was not adequate, or it was not adequately followed.

TV crews have packed up and left, after sucking out the initial drama and retailing every sensational claim they could find. Tourism operators are pleading with people not to turn their backs on the region after that influx of visitors.

Professional environmentalists are now exploiting Mount Polley as part of their campaign to de-industrialize B.C. A key propaganda tool is a single picture of a salmon with skin removed from part of its dorsal region.

No such fish has been produced, and a single rainbow trout collected the day of the spill is the only confirmed aquatic casualty.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

Just Posted

Tool and camping gear lending library to open in Revelstoke

Samantha Wex Special to the Review The North Columbia Environmental Society is… Continue reading

Two senior City of Revelstoke staff on paid leave

The City of Revelstoke’s Chief Administrative Officer, Allan Chabot and the city’s… Continue reading

Update: Mother dead, youth in critical condition after carbon monoxide poisoning at Sandy Point Campground

The woman was found unresponsive insider her tent and the youth was taken via air ambulance to hospital

Just for Kicks dancers celebrate end of the season

Revelstoke Just for Kicks dance studio students performed in their year end… Continue reading

Kelowna RCMP interrogation video brings home reality in ‘visceral way’: former TRC chairman

Video of Mountie interrogating young Indigenous woman disclosing sexual abuse under fire

Okanagan adventurer continues motorcycle trip around the world

Vernon local James Leigh recently completed the third of five legs of the journey, travelling through China and Kazakhstan

Riders “step up” their game at Coldstream Equestrian Clinic

Riders from across the Okanagan travelled to Coldstream to train for the 2019 55+ Senior Games, which take place in Kelowna this fall.

Canada’s parole officers say correctional system has reached breaking point

About half of Canada’s federal parole officers work inside penitentiaries and correctional institutions

Montreal researchers create audible hockey puck for visually impaired players

Three years ago, Gilles Ouellet came up with the idea for a puck that makes a continuous sound

Boy, 12, arrested after allegedly pulling a knife on another child at a Surrey park

The child was later released into his parents’ custody as Surrey RCMP continue their investigation

Former Greyhound bus drivers gather in the Okanagan for one last hurrah

Bash kicks off Friday in Penticton and runs until Sunday

ICBC urging drivers to slow down this May long weekend

Speed is number one cause of car crash fatalities: ICBC

Bucks hammer Raptors 125-103 to take 2-0 playoff series lead

Toronto heads home in a hole after second loss to Milwaukee

Most Read