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Valentine reports: "Hundreds of people in British Columbia can't use their water after more than a billion gallons of mining waste spilled into rivers and creeks in the province's Cariboo region."

Aerial footage shows the debris and milky blue-green tailings pond water that washed into nearby waterways after the Mount Polley Mine tailings pond breached Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. (photo: Cariboo Regional District/Facebook)
Aerial footage shows the debris and milky blue-green tailings pond water that washed into nearby waterways after the Mount Polley Mine tailings pond breached Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. (photo: Cariboo Regional District/Facebook)

Canadians Can't Drink Their Water After 1.3 Billion Gallons of Mining Waste Flows Into Rivers

By Katie Valentine, ThinkProgress

06 August 14


undreds of people in British Columbia can’t use their water after more than a billion gallons of mining waste spilled into rivers and creeks in the province’s Cariboo region.

A breach in a tailings pond from the open-pit Mount Polley copper and gold mine sent five million cubic meters (1.3 billion gallons) of slurry gushing into Hazeltine Creek in B.C. That’s the equivalent of 2,000 Olympic swimming pools of waste, the CBC reports. Tailings ponds from mineral mines store a mix of water, chemicals and ground-up minerals left over from mining operations.

The flow of the mining waste, which can contain things like arsenic, mercury, and sulfur, uprooted trees on its way to the creek and forced a water ban for about 300 people who live in the region. That number could grow, as authorities determine just how far the waste has traveled. The cause of the breach is still unknown.

So far, water-use bans have been issued for the town of Likely and for people living near Polley Lake, Quesnel Lake, Hazeltine Creek (which flows into Quesnel Lake), and Cariboo Creek, as well as the Quesnel and Cariboo River systems. Authorities so far haven’t issued water bans for the Fraser River — B.C.’s longest river — which is linked to the Quesnel River, (which flows from Quesnel Lake) saying it’s not yet clear whether the effluent has made it to the waterway.

“What we know so far is that debris from the tailings pond backed up a little into Polley Lake, which absorbed some of the flow, but the majority of it went down into the Hazeltine Creek,” Al Richmond, chairman of the Cariboo Regional District told the Vancouver Sun. “The creek (used to be) four feet wide. Now it’s 150 feet wide.”

The region is sparsely populated, which makes emergency response difficult — Richmond told the Vancouver Sun that only four people from the region’s volunteer fire department were able to act as first responders to the disaster. Right now, authorities are working to test all waterways for contamination, a process that Richmond said he hopes will take no more than 48 hours. Richmond also said he didn’t know whether or not the spill had been contained.

“The potential long-term impact to waterways, the watershed and roads is huge,” he said.

Chief Anne Louie from the Williams Lake Indian band agreed, telling the Vancouver Sun that the spill was a “massive environmental disaster.” Residents have reported seeing dead fish washing up from Polley Lake, a body of water that one resident described as “milky green.” Robin Hood, president of the Likely Chamber of Commerce, told the Province that the spill was a “big disaster” for his town and that it poses a major risk to the region’s salmon-spawning grounds.

The spill may be a disaster, but it wasn’t entirely a surprise. The Vancouver Sun reports that concerns about the Mount Polley tailings pond date back to 2011, when an environmental consulting firm put together a report for the B.C. Ministry of the Environment. The report called for an emergency plan for spills such as this and said the pond should be monitored.

“The tailings pond was filling out and they needed to get rid of the water,” Brian Olding of the firm that completed the study said. “The walls were getting too high and the water was getting too high….it appeared from a common sense point of view that you could not continue to build that up higher and higher.”

Tailings ponds — both from mineral mines like the one in B.C. and from tar sands mining operations — pose risks that reach beyond the threat of spills. Tar sands tailings ponds can be deadly for birds that land on them, mistaking them for bodies of water. Earlier this year, a study found that about 200,000 birds land on tailings ponds every year, despite oil companies’ attempts to keep them off. Another study this year found that toxic water from tar sands tailings ponds in Alberta was leaching into groundwater and polluting the Athabasca River. your social media marketing partner


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+50 # bmiluski 2014-08-06 09:47
What is it going to take for people to come to their senses and start doing something about these people called corporations?
+50 # tswhiskers 2014-08-06 09:49
Does this mean that the Canadian company currently backing the the oil pipeline projected to run thru the largest water aquifer in the Midwest will finally understand the problem and rescind the project in the interests of the public good? I should live so long to see such corporate altruism.
+30 # Dust 2014-08-06 10:53
Oh, of course not. They will say:

1. It's not our fault;
2. It'll clean up itself;
3. OUR drinking water isn't affected;
4. Fish are dirty and killing them is good;
5. It can't happen again;
6. Why are you a terrorist who hates progress and freedom and democracy?
+22 # indian weaver 2014-08-06 10:59
Coming soon, to a lake / river / stream / pond / aquifer / storage pond / tailings pond / fracking well near you. Consider your options before the government allows your water to be poisoned, allowing the corporations to make money while We The People suffer and everything dies within the reach of the retched CEO's / Obama / Congress / Administration. Your government cares not at all about us. Can we really care about the government? Should we let it survive, or let the poisoners and politicians survive without poisoning them to death too? Really, consider your options before you are out of water and out of luck. The government will kill you in a heartbeat for their own personal wealth to increase. That is what is happening, and worldwide, and planet-wide. Our government has made itself the enemy of all creation and of every God. The Fascist Terrorist Regime of Amerika, Inkorporated is one big killing machine, and you are just one of its billions of targets.
+8 # Archie1954 2014-08-06 11:02
I think Imperial Mining's name is mud in the industry, excuse the pun!
+18 # bobaka 2014-08-06 12:25
The elites live isolated in the zones with least environmental destruction. Visiting industrial pollution hell on common unknown, insignificant, and mostly irrelevant citizens, who do not have the rights of elite humans, is so common that only populists notice.Where's it going? die offs, of course. Do you mind being murdered for some elitist corporate strategy to succeed? The alternative is socialism: public ownership of all institutions providing for social need:Food, clothing, shelter, medical treatment, education, energy, transportation. The beasts on top have monopoly corporations coupled with fiat money banks sucking your blood and pouring toxic wastes into your babies blood streams, internal and externally. The umbilical chords of babies born in the U.S. contain over two hundred industrial chemicals. What is stealth murder if not this?
+4 # NAVYVET 2014-08-06 22:58
Canadians: I've been to Canada many times and I like you people! When will you be able to get rid of your corrupt prime minister? He seems tragically UN-Canadian.
+3 # fredboy 2014-08-07 17:14
Water is the new corporate treasure. Spoil drinking water, then step in and sell drinking water. Duh...

Guarantee water wars during the next 50 years.
0 # socrates2 2014-08-09 13:09
Pardon the unPC stereotype, but do Moosehead-swigg ing Canadians actually drink water?
Be well.

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