WILLIAMS LAKE – Government and Cariboo Regional District 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.
- The Ministry of Environment has issued a Pollution Abatement Order to Mount Polley Mining Corp. This order requires 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 requires 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 by today. 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.
- The Cariboo Regional District (CRD) declared a state of local emergency (SOLE) allowing it the exceptional powers to suspend certain rights and freedoms in the interest of ensuring public safety. In this case, the CRD required the ability to gain access to private property in order to provide heavy equipment support to the West Fraser Mills forest company that is deploying tub boats for collection/control of woody debris from Lake Quesnel.
Additionally, the declaration allows the CRD better enable a fair distribution of potable water to the residents of Likely.
- Tug boats have been working 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.
- Polley Lake: the mine’s management, in consultation with Geotech consultants and government geotechnical engineers, are reviewing alternatives to lower the water level in Polley Lake These may include pumping the water into a historic empty pit on the site or pumping or diverting the water to the Hazeltine Creek.
- Tailings Pond: the mine’s management in consultation with Geotech consultants and government experts are reviewing a plan to build a berm to prevent further tailings from flowing into Hazeltine Creek.
- Ministry of Energy and Mines inspectors continue their investigation. They have now begun the interview process in conjunction with the Conservation Service. This will involve interviewing mine staff and a review of all applicable documentation on the mine site.
- Quesnel Lake & Likely Bridge: Good progress is being made by West Fraser to boom the debris in Quesnel Lake and prevent it from reaching the bridge. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has two excavators stationed at the Likely Bridge to respond should any significant accumulations of debris threaten the bridge. At this point, there is no imminent threat to the structure.
- The flow out of the breach has decreased dramatically, but has not completely stopped. Imperial Metals continues to work to stop flow out of the pond.
- A small amount of tailings backed into the mouth Polley Lake and the main slurry flow went down Hazeltine Creek where it meets Quesnel Lake. The slurry and a large debris pile appear to be stationary at this point. Hazeltine Creek was originally about four feet wide and is now up to 150 feet wide.
- The cause of the breach is still unknown at this time. Ministry of Environment conservation officers are investigating the breach along with Ministry of Energy and Mines mine inspectors, two of whom have been monitoring the site by helicopter.
- Water sampling took place the evening of Aug. 4 and samples were sent for testing early yesterday morning. Drinking water testing continues and results are expected tomorrow or Friday morning at the latest. Until that point, the environmental impact of the contaminated water on the local watershed remains unknown.
- In the meantime, the CRD has issued a water ban 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.
- The cost of the cleanup of the breach is the responsibility of Imperial Metals, and is not a cost borne by B.C. taxpayers.
The ban 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.
Initially, it was believed the small town of Likely was not directly affected because it was unclear how many people in the town used water from Quesnel Lake. Since then, the Cariboo Regional District has decided to start delivering 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 volunteers continue going door to door to recommend evacuation from park sites and notify water users of the water ban. They are also supporting water delivery efforts.
Due to the influx of tourists in to the area over the long weekend, the numbers of people affected is unconfirmed but the CRD estimates it could range up to 300.
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 Likely Bridge is not affected at this time.
Previous site inspections:
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. It was a one-day period where the height of the effluent within tailings pond was above regulation.
To date, Imperial Metals has been compliant with respect to recent orders regarding dam safety inspections. The last inspection by government mining officials took place in September 2013.
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 exceedence 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.
Early in the morning of Aug. 4, 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. Hazletine Creek flows out of Polley Lake and the flow of contaminated water continued into Quesnel Lake.
The Mount Polley Mine is owned by Imperial Metals and is approximately 30 kilometres from the community of Likely.
The tailing pond at Mount Polley Mine is 4 kms by 4 kms. 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.