Oakes updates the public on Mount Polley Mine tailings pond breach

Cariboo North MLA Coralee Oakes updates the public on Mount Polley Mine tailings pond breach and previous inspections.

  • Aug. 8, 2014 5:00 a.m.

The following statement was issued today by Cariboo North MLA Coralee Oakes updating the community on the breach of the Mount Polley Mine tailings pond on Monday.

Government and Cariboo Regional District (CRD) officials continue to work together to address the breach at the Mount Polley tailings pond, to test the local drinking water to determine if it is safe for locals to drink or bathe in, and to help ensure the safety and well-being of local residents.

This factsheet will be updated daily with the latest information available.

New today:

1. Aug. 4 drinking water samples taken by the Ministry of Environment have come back safe to drink, according to Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines. Out of caution, Interior Health has maintained the “do not use” water advisory until additional daily tests show consistently safe water quality results. Results from water samples drawn on Aug. 5 will be available this afternoon.

2. The Ministry of Energy and Mines has released a summary of inspection frequencies at Mount Polley. Since the mine was permitted in 1995, there have been 16 geotechnical inspections conducted by ministry geotechnical inspectors. Seven geotechnical inspections took place before the mine went into care and maintenance in 2001 and nine geotechnical inspections have taken place since it reopened in March 2005.

3. A Disaster Psycho-Social Support (DPS) team has deployed locally to offer residents emotional support for their unique impacts and needs. Emergency Management BC (EMBC) requested DPS services from the Provincial Health Services Authority, which co-ordinates trained volunteers to provide services to communities affected by emergencies and disasters. EMBC is funding the deployment and information on how to access the services will be provided directly to residents.

Current situation:

The flow out of the breach has decreased dramatically, but has not completely stopped. Imperial Metals currently is building a temporary berm to stop flow out of the pond.

During the initial breach of the tailings dam the bulk of the original flow created an unstable plug at the base of Polley Lake. The balance of the tailings and water went down Hazeltine Creek and deposited at the confluence of the creek and river. Hazeltine Creek was originally about four feet wide and is now up to 150 feet wide.

The state of local emergency (SOLE) remains in place, giving the CRD exceptional powers in the interest of ensuring public safety, allowing it to better enable an equitable distribution of potable water to the residents of Likely.

The cause of the breach is still unknown at this time. Ministry of Environment conservation officers are investigating the breach. Ministry of Energy and Mines mine inspectors also are investigating, two of whom have been monitoring the site by helicopter.

Tug boats continue to work in the area to boom the debris in the water and excavators are on standby in the event they are needed as well. Significant progress has been made.

In the meantime, until additional tests come back, Interior Health has maintained the drinking water advisory not to drink, bath or feed livestock drawn from the following waterways: Quesnel Lake, Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek and Cariboo Creek. The entire Quesnel River system right up to the Fraser River is under a “do not drink” advisory. **Note: boiling will not help**

There have been no reports of injuries or people getting sick from drinking water. There have been no reports of property damage.

EMBC and the CRD Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) are working together on response and recovery of this event. Government resource specialists in the Likely area to support the EOC in Williams Lake. This team will co-ordinate site-level Provincial response and recovery activities in cooperation with Imperial Metals, the party responsible for site management.

Mt. Polley/Imperial Metals is working to install a liaison in the CRD’s EOC to improve the co-ordination.

The cost of the cleanup of the breach is the responsibility of Imperial Metals, and is not a cost borne by B.C. taxpayers.

Pollution abatement order:

On Aug. 6, the Ministry of Environment issued a Pollution Abatement Order (PAO) to Mt. Polley Mining Corp. This order required immediate action to stop the further release of mine tailings into nearby waterways and to submit environmental impact assessments and clean-up action plans to the ministry.

It also required the company to submit a written summary of actions taken to stop the release of mine tailings and to undertake preliminary environmental impact assessment and submit an action plan.

Imperial Mines met the Aug. 6 deadline requirements of the order to submit an Action Plan for the Preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and initiate environmental monitoring. Imperial Metals has provided, and will be initiating a plan to stop the flow from the Tailings Impoundment breach as required by item 1 of the PAO.

The company must also submit a detailed action plan by Aug. 15, and it is required to report weekly on the implementation of action plan measures.


Ministry of Energy and Mines inspectors continue their investigation and are continuing with interviews of mine staff and a review of all applicable documentation on the mine site.

Ministry of Environment conservation officers are independently investigating the breach. Conservation officers are Special Provincial Constables under the Police Act with a wide suite of powers associated with that designation. Although part of government, the COS is unfettered in its investigations as the COS investigates and forwards recommendations for charges when warranted directly to provincial crown counsel.

The inspectors of mines and other agencies will undertake a comprehensive investigation to determine causes for the breach. This will take several months. Lessons learned will applied to other mines in the province as appropriate

Polley Lake Water Stabilization Plan:

The Ministry of Energy and Mines has received notification of emergency works by Imperial Metals to reduce the water level in Polley Lake by constructing a pipeline to Hazeltine Creek downstream from the tailings blockage. The water will then flow downstream into Quesnel Lake where it will be tested daily. The map of the pipeline route is available at: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/eemp/incidents/2014/mount-polley.htm

The company has initiated work and expects to have the system in place in the next several days.

Currently, water is being pumped out of Polley Lake into Wight and Springer Pits, two open pits on the mine, while the pipeline is being constructed.

Sediments and debris have created an unstable blockage at Polley Lake that has resulted in a build-up of water that could result in a sudden uncontrolled breach.

It’s necessary to reduce the excess water in Polley Lake in order stabilize the situation and to avoid a potential release of more sediments and debris into the surrounding waterways.

The potential for rain could further increase water levels in Polley Lake and outflows from Hazeltine Creek.

A controlled release of excess water with a pipeline will help to stabilize the area and reduce the risk of sediments reaching Quesnel Lake.

Once the water level is reduced to a safe level, technicians will be able to enter Polley Lake and begin taking water and sediment samples.

Berm Update:

The construction of the berm to prevent further tailings from flowing into Hazeltine Creek began last night and the company estimates that it will take about three weeks to complete.

Drinking water advisory:

While initial environmental testing has shown the first set of water samples to be below Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines, Interior Health has determined that the drinking water ban must remain in place until further testing shows consistently safe drinking water results. The advisory does not apply to people in Williams Lake, Quesnel or other towns along the Fraser River. Fishing by First Nations along the Fraser is also not affected.

On Aug. 7, Save-On-Foods, in conjunction with the Canadian Red Cross donated 18,000, 500ml bottles of water and 1,440, four-litre bottles of water. These bottles have been distributed to Likely residents in need.

This donation supplements the work of the CRD, which has organized delivery of water to Likely because the main supplier of bottled water in the area, a small grocery store, could not keep up with the demand. Search and rescue, Save-On-Foods employees and Red Cross volunteers are all supporting water delivery efforts.

The Ministry of Environment will continue to provide water sampling results to Interior Health officials and the CRD EOC as they become available. The ministry will continue to conduct water sampling tests daily to determine the impacts on water quality and is also working with Imperial Metals to develop both short-term and long-term plans for further water quality testing

The ministry is now posting results on its website: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/eemp/incidents/2014/mount-polley.htm

The website includes a map of the sampling locations.

There are approximately 300 residents within the affected area.

Regional infrastructure and waterways:

Waterways affected by this event include Quesnel Lake, Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek and Cariboo Creek.

Additionally the Horsefly Likely Forest Service (Ditch Road) has been washed out at Hazeltine Creek and the Gavin Lake Forest Service Road was washed out closer to the dam breach area.

The mine’s management, in consultation with Geotech consultants and government geotechnical engineers, is reviewing the situation at the tailings pond. Specifically, they are reviewing a plan to build a berm to prevent further tailings from flowing into Hazeltine Creek.

Good progress is being made by West Fraser to boom the debris in Quesnel Lake and prevent it from reaching the bridge. The most recent reports suggest that approximately 80% of it is contained in Mitchell Bay and will be forwarded to Fraser Mills haul-out site. This means that the Likely Bridge is no longer considered at risk.

Tourism information:

All tourism businesses in the affected area and the entire region remain open, operational, and ready to welcome guests.

The 2nd Annual Hot Summer Nights Music Festival on Quesnel Lake, near Likely, is scheduled to take place this weekend and will continue. The resort has arranged to bring in a 5,000 gallon tank for potable water to ensure guests continue to enjoy not only this event but also regular resort operations. The restaurant is open and they hope many people will come join them this weekend and throughout the summer.

As well, the Plato Island Resort & Marina, also on Quesnel Lake, will host its annual Musik Fest 2014 on Aug. 9, with Williams Lake performers “Perfect Match” taking the stage. Plato remains fully operational as their water supply is from a nearby spring, isolated from the Mount Polley incident.

Other information:

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has issued a precautionary closure on a portion of the Chinook salmon fishery until sample results have come in. See the notice here: http://www-ops2.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fns-sap/index-eng.cfm?pg=view_notice&DOC_ID=161980&ID=all

Previous site inspections:

The Mount Polley mine has a valid Mines Act permit and the company has been generally compliant with the Health, Safety and Reclamation Code and their Mines Act permit conditions.

Following reports of a previous breach at the mine, Ministry of Energy and Mines officials investigated an incident on May 24, 2014, and determined this was not a breach. Rather, the height of the tailings pond was above regulation. This occurred in a different area of the tailings pond than the Aug. 4 dam failure.

At the time of the advisory, the distance between the water elevation and the crest of the dam (freeboard) was less than one meter. The tailings pond level returned to authorized levels and freeboard was approximately 2.4 meters when last measured. Mine records show that the operation was carrying out visual dam inspections and measuring freeboard at an acceptable frequency, including daily measurements following the incident.

The Ministry of Energy and Mines conducted a geotechnical inspection at the mine in September 2013, which resulted in no inspection orders related to the tailings facility.

Here is a list of recent advisories to Mount Polley from the Ministry of Environment, only one of which was related to height of the tailings pond. The Ministry of Environment is responsible to ensure no unauthorized effluent discharge from the tailings pond structure:

May 24, 2014: The ministry issued an advisory to Mount Polley Mining Corporation for exceedance of the height of effluent within the tailings impoundment. The effluent level returned to authorized levels commencing June 30, 2014.

April 18, 2014: The ministry issued an advisory to Mount Polley Mining Corporation for bypass of authorized treatment works. The site experienced high flows due to spring freshet which caused the pump system to become blocked and resulted in an overflow of effluent to the long ditch. Flow did not reach the creek and was directed into Till Borrow Pit.

January and April 2012: The ministry issued an advisory to Mount Polley Mining Corporation for not submitting monitoring data for one of the groundwater monitoring wells.

Aug. 30, 2012: The ministry issued a warning to Mount Polley Mining Corporation for failure to report exceedance of the height of effluent for the perimeter pond. This perimeter pond overflowed, releasing approximately 150 cubic metres of effluent over 13 hours to ground.

As required by the Health, Safety and Reclamation Code for Mines in British Columbia, companies must submit Annual Dam Safety Inspection reports to the Chief Inspector on an annual basis. Inspections of dams by ministry geotechnical inspectors are conducted at a frequency informed by the dam consequence classification that is designated by the dam design engineers in accordance with the Canadian Dam Association Dam Safety Guidelines.

Since the Mount Polley mine was permitted in 1995, there have been 16 geotechnical inspections conducted by Ministry Geotechnical Inspectors. Geotechnical Inspections were conducted in the following years (one per year unless otherwise stated): 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2005 (two inspections), 2006, 2007 (two inspections), 2008, 2012 (two inspections), 2013.

In summary, seven geotechnical inspections took place before the mine went into care and maintenance in 2001 and nine geotechnical inspections have taken place since it re-opened in March 2005. The last geotechnical inspection was conducted in September 2013 and resulted in no inspection orders related to the tailings facility.

Here is a historical record of the number of all types of inspections (including geotechnical) each year from 1999 to 2014: 1999 – 1, 2000 – 4, 2001 – 22 (care and maintenance started September 2001), 2002 – 4, 2003 – 2, 2004 – 5, 2005 – 15 (mine re-opened March 2005), 2006 – 10, 2007 – 10, 2008 – 8, 2009 – 9, 2010 – 7, 2011 – 4, 2012 – 6, 2013 – 15, 2014 (to-date) – 8.

Additional background:

Early in the morning of Aug. 4, 2014, the tailings pond dam at the Mount Polley Mine site breached and released an estimated 10 million cubic metres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of fine sand into Polley Lake. Hazeltine Creek flows out of Polley Lake and the flow of contaminated water continued into Quesnel Lake.

Monitoring devices, called piezometers, designed to measure the pressure of water in the dam, did not show any changes in the water pressure before the dam breach. The last piezometer readings were taken on Aug. 2, 2014. The investigation will determine if the piezometers were located correctly.

The Mount Polley Mine is owned by Imperial Metals and is approximately 30 kilometres from the community of Likely.

The tailings pond at Mount Polley Mine is four kilometres by four kilometres. This is a large breach and extremely rare.

Officials with the Ministry of Energy and Mines do not recall anything of this magnitude in at least the last 40 years.

For more information:

A public information line has been set up by the CRD: 250 398-5581

Updates will be posted to the Cariboo Regional District’s emergency operations Facebook page, here: http://www.facebook.com/CRDemergencyoperations or on the CRD website at: http://www.cariboord.ca/

People with vacation plans that include travelling to, or through, this area of the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast, the most up-to-date information on the affected area can also be at the CRD EOC Facebook and web sites.

For a collection of documents from government and partners surrounding the Mountt Polley breach, visit: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/eemp/incidents/2014/mount-polley.htm

The Aug. 7, 2014, factsheet is available at: http://www2.news.gov.bc.ca/news_releases_2013-2017/2014MEM0021-001145.htm

Our office is providing updates to the public as we receive them and posting information on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/cariboonorth. We also have email updates available and if you would like to receive those please email Coralee.Oakes.MLA@leg.bc.ca.


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