Quesnel River Research Centre manager Sam Albers speaks  to students at Lake City secondary’s Columneetza campus last month about Earth Day. Albers co-authored a report on the effects of the Mount Polley tailings pond breach on Quesnel Lake.

Quesnel River Research Centre manager Sam Albers speaks to students at Lake City secondary’s Columneetza campus last month about Earth Day. Albers co-authored a report on the effects of the Mount Polley tailings pond breach on Quesnel Lake.

Researchers pen journal on affects of mine breach

In the aftermath of the Mount Polley Mine tailings impoundment breach Quesnel Lake’s level rose by 7.7 centimetres.

In the aftermath of the Mount Polley Mine tailings impoundment breach Quesnel Lake’s level rose by 7.7 centimetres, its temperature at the bottom increased by one to 2.5 C., and sediment samples showed elevated copper concentrations, often above sediment quality guidelines for freshwater ecosystems.

Those are some of the findings outlined in a scientific research paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters on the impacts of the Aug. 4, 2014 breach.

As the paper was released online Tuesday, one of the five UNBC scientists who authored the paper said it is the first of what will be a long series of articles.

“It was important to release the paper relatively quickly because it was such a dramatic event,” UNBC Geography professor Dr. Ellen Petticrew said of the breach. “We could see big changes in both the water temperature in the bottom, on the dispersion of the plume and on the quality of the plume so we wanted get that out so that people were aware of what was happening.”

Joining Petticrew on the research team were UNBC scientists Sam Albers, Phil Owens, Stephen Dery and Nikolaus Ganter.

Their paper focused on data that was collected between Aug. 4 and Oct. 4.

“People have been collecting more data since then, but it takes a while to get material out, evaluated and published,” Petticrew said.

They also used background data prepared by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, University of B.C. and the Quesnel River Research Centre (QRRC) that provided information on the physical aspects of the lake and some of the factors that regulate how material moves around the lake.

Albers manages the QRRC and said the newly released paper is the formal peer-reviewed version of the story he and his colleagues have been repeating for months.

“It’s about the spread of the sediment, the watershed, and some of the physical changes in the lake that have contributed to some unusual mixing patterns,” he said.

The lake turnover was early in the fall and the spring, Albers said, noting for the next several years those turnovers will be important to observe.

“Remember in late December and early January the lake and river turned green for about a month because of the sediment caught near the breach site was being flushed out,” he said. “Every year we will look at it closely to see if we see some of the same patterns we saw this year.”

Their research also found that turbidity of the water column was increased into the West Arm of Quesnel Lake, indicating the existence of a sediment plume at depths below 30 metres, and that ultra-fine sediments remained suspended.

Rocking of the water column also redirected the sediment plume  — estimated to be 600 metres long and one to three metres deep — toward the North and East Arms of Quesnel Lake, as well as towards the lake outflow, Quesnel River.

Several research projects taking place or planned at the QRRC involve people from UNBC, the University of Toronto, Thompson Rivers University and the United Kingdom.

The sediment plume, made up of tailings and scoured natural material that was washed down from Hazeltine Creek, continues to be a main concern for scientists.

“We know the plume is high in copper and one of the big concerns is will it stay there in the plume or will it find its way into the food web?” Albers said.

A good reason for publishing the paper in an international journal is to make the Mount Polley Mine spill more of a global story, Petticrew said.

“Mining is global and dams break all over the world, but much of the story has been presented and discussed in B.C. because that’s where the regulations are and that’s where the mine is.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A man wearing a mask against coronavirus walks past an NHS advertisement about COVID-19 in London, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
92 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths: Interior Health

The region is reporting 92 cases after the weekend

100 Mile Conservation Officer Joel Kline and YEP student Jill Matlock found themselves wrangling four horses on Highway 97 on Feb. 17. The horses were travelling at a steady trot up the highway after escaping their corral. (Jill Matlock photo - submitted).
Conservation officers wrangle horses on Highway 97

Jill Matlock never expected to be herding four horses in a truck.

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

Williams Lake RCMP are investigating after suspects assaulted two employees at a convenience store and fled with cash and merchandise. (Black Press file photo)
Williams Lake RCMP investigating robbery at local convenience store

The robbery occurred Saturday evening, Feb. 27

?Esdilagh First Nation health department staff were thrilled to rollout out the community’s first COVID-19 vaccines Friday, Feb. 26. L-R: registered nurse Sam Riczu, elder worker Marie Conway, wellness coordinator Linda Siwalace, community health representative Sharon Palmantier and youth coordinator Dakotah Casey. (photo submitted)
?Esdilagh First Nation receives first COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccination clinic held Feb. 26 for high-risk elders

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation, May 8, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C.’s weekend COVID-19 cases: 532 Saturday, 508 Sunday, 438 Monday

Fraser Health still has most, eight more coronavirus deaths

Vernon’s Noric House long-term care facility’s COVID-10 outbreak has been declared over by Interior Health. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
COVID outbreak at Vernon’s Noric House declared over

10 deaths were linked to the outbreak at long-term care facility

B.C. Attorney General David Eby speaks in the legislature, Dec. 7, 2020. Eby was given responsibility for housing after the October 2020 provincial election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends COVID-19 rent freeze again, to the end of 2021

‘Renoviction’ rules tightened, rent capped to inflation in 2022

Face mask hangs from a rear-view mirror. (Black Press image)
B.C. CDC unveils guide on how to carpool during the pandemic

Wearing masks, keeping windows open key to slowing the spread of COVID-19

Churches, including Langley’s Riverside Calvary Church, are challenging the regulations barring them from holding in-person worship services during COVID-19. (Langley Advance Times file)
Det. Sgt. Jim Callender. (Hamilton Police Service screenshot)
B.C. man dead, woman seriously injured after shooting in Hamilton, Ont.

The man was in the process of moving to the greater Toronto area, police say

Most Read