UNBC Quesnel River Research Centre’s Dr. Phillip Owens holds up a sediment sample during the centre’s open house held Saturday in Likely.

UNBC Quesnel River Research Centre’s Dr. Phillip Owens holds up a sediment sample during the centre’s open house held Saturday in Likely.

Researchers track Mount Polley effects

UNBC Quesnel River Research Centre staff said their findings of the Mount Polley tailings breach are consistent with government.

UNBC Quesnel River Research Centre staff said their findings of the Mount Polley tailings breach are consistent with what government and the mine are reporting.

“The good news is that elevated levels of metals are not above drinking water guidelines and it’s really nice to be able to say that,” said Dr. Phil Owens during a presentation at the centre’s open house in Likely Saturday.

As an arms-length independent organization, the centre has been actively collecting samples from Quesnel Lake and Quesnel River since the Aug. 4 disaster.

And since the breach researchers from all over B.C., some from Toronto and Windsor, and as far away as the United Kingdom, have arrived to help the centre with its data collection.

Despite the drinking water guidelines being OK, staff insisted ongoing tracking of the plume as a result of the tailings spill is paramount.

“Our work is showing the importance of plume tracking in the context of sediment redistribution in the watershed,” the centre’s biologist Sam Albers said.

Very small particles result in long-term suspension and two months after the spill the sediment is still sitting there and metals associated with fine sediment are being observed, he explained.

Even though the concentration of metals is below water treatment levels, there is an increasing concentration of levels in samples taken down water from the spill.

“The sediment is moving up lake and down stream,” Albers explained. “I haven’t lived here forever, but it’s not normal for the river to be that green colour.”

There’s also an apparent storage of fine sediment in gravel beds, he added.

Moving forward research staff and students will focus concerns on the turnover of the lake in the fall and spring because there is a potential for materials to  impact drinking water through mobilization and after that go into the food web as the metals have a potential to accumulate.

“We are targeting zooplankton for our sampling because everything moves through that portion of the food web,” he said, adding they don’t expect metals now but maybe next year and the years after that.

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