While Imperial Metals waits for a decision on its application to return to full operations at Mount Polley Mining Corp., the company has been granted permit amendments to increase production by one million tonnes of ore and discharge untreated effluent into Quesnel Lake.
In an emailed response, the Ministry of Mines stated the ability to discharge untreated effluent is required to “deal with freshet flows and a bottleneck at the water treatment plant.”
The ministry stated only water that meets the permit discharge quality will be allowed to bypass the water treatment plant and the decision was made free from any political interference.
The company has also been granted authorization to increase mining operations from four million to five million tonnes of ore.
Likely resident Doug Watt, who has lived on Quesnel Lake for 20 years, said knowing the mine is discharging untreated water into the lake again after the tailings breach of August, 2014 is a tough pill to swallow.
“I know the water being discharged meets the B.C. water quality guidelines, which the water treatment plant most of the time did also, but the Quesnel Lake water quality is way better than the B.C water quality guidelines,” said Watt.
“They are still contaminating Quesnel Lake water because they are putting in water that is of lesser quality.”
With the amended permit the mine is presently discharging water from the Springer Pit, its temporary tailings storage facility.
The effluent flows from the pit through pipes, and then out in the open down the seven kilometers of Hazeltine Creek where it waits in settlement ponds before being discharged into the lake through diffuser pipes.
Watt criticized the size of the water treatment plant, saying it should be bigger.
“They are restricted by the terms of the permit, and are only allowed to discharge water when the total flow coming down the creek is below a certain level,” Watt said. “That doesn’t help in this case when the water is backing up.”
Imperial Metals vice-president of corporate affairs Steve Robertson said the water treatment plant is performing “quite” well.
“The water on the site has been treated by going through the mill and then to the Springer Pit where it has time to settle so the amount of total suspended solids is reduced,” Robertson said.
If the water meets permitted requirements, it doesn’t need to go into the water treatment plant, Robertson added.
“We cannot bypass it all, and have to continue running the water through the treatment plant, but we can bypass some of it as long as the water guideline criteria continues to be met.”
The mine is permitted to discharge .3 cubic metres per second and the water treatment plant is processing anywhere from .17 to .22 cubic metres per second. The remaining water is being bypassed, Robertson said.
Water level in the Springer Pit had reached the 1,030 metre above sea level mark which could result in water going out into the ground water if it’s not dealt with, he added.
“The allowance to bypass is to make sure we don’t have an excess of build up on site. It’s really an act that is in protection of the environment,” Robertson said.
Williams Lake Indian Band Chief Ann Louie said the amended permit was necessary because there was concern water from Springer Pit would overflow because of spring freshet.
“Most of the water being released is being treated,” Louie said, noting at least there is a water treatment plant, which wasn’t there before the breach.
Louie said she and Xatsull Chief Donna Dixon signed a letter of understanding, bringing the government to task to look at changing regulations and legislation because of the breach.
The next community meeting on the mine’s longterm water discharge plan is scheduled for Likely on Wednesday, May 25.
Watt said he and other residents have and will continue to ask that the water — treated or untreated — not be discharged into Quesnel Lake, unless they can get the water quality to the same high standard the lake was before the tailings impoundment breach.
“If they can do that then there’s something to talk about,” Watt said. “Otherwise they should be discharging that water into Quesnel River, which then takes it away from the lake and mixes very quickly in the river, and very quickly with the Cariboo River and the Fraser River.”
It wouldn’t be easy, but it’s do-able, Watt added.
“They would just have to run the pipelines in the opposite direction they are now.”
Robertson said discharging the water into Quesnel River is one of a number of scenarios Imperial Metals is considering.
“We are taking a look at all of them and that’s the point of having the community consultation to make sure we understand everybody’s point of view so we can take it into account when we come up with a final proposal for the long term water management plan,” Robertson said.
On Nov. 6, 2015, Mount Polley Mine submitted an application for amendment to its Mines Act permit to allow the mine to return to full operations.
Key components of the company’s application to return to full operations includes the proposal to use the repaired tailings storage facility for tailings storage going forward if the application is approved and a detailed water management plan, stated the Ministry of Mines.