Distrust, anger, and concerns for Quesnel Lake still linger five years later for many residents following the Mount Polley tailings pond breach.
“A lot of people are still pretty upset about the fact that the company is discharging into this once pristine lake and also that the Ministry and the other regulatory authorities, the British Columbia government, allow them to do it,” said Likely resident and member of the Mount Polley liaison committee, Doug Watt.
“It’s almost like every time Mount Polley runs into a little bit of a difficulty and they don’t want to work quite so hard on protecting the environment the Ministry of Environment gives them what they want to allow them to have easier standards to reach.”
Despite being deemed safe by officials, Watt said he refuses to drink the water while knowing Mount Polley is discharging mine wastewater directly into Quesnel Lake
“We were disappointed that they got permission to put that there at all and then the permit they did get in 2017 said that they had to stop the discharge by December 31 of 2022,” he said.
“We’ve now learned that Mount Polley plans to continue to discharge indefinitely. I’ve seen copies of their closure and their reclamation where they show the pipeline in the lake in 2025 and in fact they have informed the committee that they plan to apply for another permit amendment to allow them to discharge indefinitely.”
A section of Mt Polley’s tailing pond collapsed on August 4, 2014, releasing a torrent of mine tailings and wastewater into local watersheds.
The community around Quesnel Lake will be marking the fifth anniversary of the tailings pond failure Sunday (August 4) at the residence of Christine McLean who lives near Mitchell Bay and is the founder of the Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake that has launched a challenge of the provincial discharge permit to the B.C. Environmental Appeal Board.
“The work they’re doing on the landscape which is mostly around Hazeltine Creek, they have done a fair amount of work though anybody that goes out there even now after five years it still basically looks like a moonscape,” Watt said.
“Certainly they’re doing a lot of work on the restoration and they’ve got the creek bed rebuilt but in the meantime, they take the easiest and cheapest way out in their water treatment and their effluent treatment which means that Quesnel Lake continues to get polluted.”
Imperial Metals announced in January that it would be suspending operations at Mount Polley at the end of May 2019 due to declining copper prices and said there will be no impact to the mine’s ongoing environmental monitoring and remediation program.
“The monitoring is still ongoing but not at the same intensity it used to be,” Watt said.
“Last October the Ministry of Environment secretly approved an amendment to the permit that allowed Mount Polley to reduce their sampling frequency which was between weekly and monthly on Quesnel Lake down to only four times a year and there was no discussion with the public on that. We didn’t find out about it until after the fact and they were brazen enough to tell us that they considered that to be a minor amendment to reduce the amount of monitoring on the lake, so many of us have a tough time trying to trust the Ministry and the regulators because they seem to do more for Mount Polley than they do for the environment.”
It remains unclear if Imperial Metals will face charges under the federal Fisheries Act.