Alexandria chief pushes for Gibraltar Mine water treatment plant

First Nations Chief says a water treatment plant should be part of Gibraltar Mine's water discharge plan.

The chief of a First Nations community located near Gibraltar Mine says a water treatment plant should be part of the mine’s water discharge plan.

Earlier this month, Gibraltar received a one-year permit from the province to increase the amount of water it discharges into the Fraser River by 50 per cent.

“We still don’t know the cumulative effects,” said ?Esdilagh (Alexandria) Chief Bernie Mack of the increase in discharge. “I am pro-mining and do think discharging water is the way to go, because we don’t want to see another tailings pond breach like Mount Polley. The tailings pond at Gibraltar is four times the size of Mount Polley’s.”

Estimating the cost of a water treatment plant at around $10 million, Mack said it is a small price to pay compared to the $300 million the mine spent on its upgrade and another $300 million on new equipment.

However, Taseko Mines Ltd. said there is no need for a treatment plant because the quality of the water being discharged is “very” good, said Brian Battison, vice-president of corporate affairs.

The mine has been discharging water into the Fraser River for several years and there will be no environmental effects with the increase, he said.

“The water meets the water quality guidelines now, so why would you treat something when there’s no need to treat it?” he said.

Lime is used in the mineral concentrator and acts as a high density water treatment which is one of the reasons the water quality is so good, he said.

As well, some of the water in the discharge is rain, snow melt and groundwater that has been accumulating for a long time in the tailings impoundment.

“For almost every measure the water quality is better than what is in the Fraser River,” Battison said.

Mack said there should have been an environmental assessment before the expansion of Gibraltar.

“We felt if that was done we would have better information in terms of water treatment.”

First Nations hunt near and fish in the Fraser River and have concerns about what will happen when the mine shuts down and finally moves on.

“Having a water treatment plant now could also help with their production of copper too because they could probably release more, which would be good for the investors and the environment.”

If the infrastructure is in place, it would be good for the public, Mack added.

“To me if we’ve learned anything from Mount Polley, water treatment plants should be the standard for mines.”

Mount Polley Mine intends to install a water treatment plant according to its water discharge permit application.

“A lot of our water is fine to discharge without treatment, but quite frankly we’re putting it in because we want to ensure we are going to meet the requirements for discharge,” said Imperial Metals vice-president of corporate affairs Steve Robertson. “We decided the installation of a treatment plant would be the best way to go.”

The treatment plant will target total things such as suspended solids, copper and selenium.

“We won’t know what the full list will be until we get the permit,” Robertson said.

Battison said mines are required to have a reclamation plan that is updated every five years and fully bonded so the plan can be completely executed.

The mine continues to reclaim the land which is part of the plan.

“That includes water treatment and soil, everything, and it’s fully funded,” Battison added.