Community eco-action groups in British Columbia are calling on the province to increase its monitoring of mining metals and compounds that a new report says is impacting water quality in Peterson Creek, a tributary of the South Thompson River.
The new report prepared by hydrogeologist Dr. Kevin Morin on behalf of the Kamloops Area Preservation Association (KAPA) aims to draw the province’s attention to contamination from waste rock at the closed Ajax copper and gold mine just south of Kamloops. The report, which examined annual and five-year report data required under the defunct mine’s permit, warns that mine effluent water samples exceed the British Columbia Water Quality Guidelines for arsenic, selenium, uranium, molybdenum, copper, sulphate and nitrate.
The report states that the contamination has only been getting worse since 2013.
“There are over 50 million tonnes of water-contaminating waste rock and overburden that have been left behind by past mine operators as close as 60 metres from Peterson Creek,” said KAPA spokesperson, Paula Pick, in a statement to media. “We should all be concerned about this increasing pollution, but especially people directly using water from the creek and its aquifer,” she added.
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Peterson Creek and its aquifer serve as a source of domestic water for the Knutsford Knoll development, the Kamloops RV Campground, and several individual homes. Within the immediate area of the old Ajax Mine site, there are five mapped aquifers. There is also concern about the adverse effects of the compounds on aquatic organisms.
Kamloops, B.C.’s largest mining community, has a population of nearly 100,000.
In a legal letter sent to the B.C. Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, KAPA is asking that measurements of creek flows and chemistry be changed from the current biannual requirement to monthly measurements. KAPA also wants at least 20 surrounding monitoring wells to be sampled monthly, as recommended in Dr. Morin’s report. Additional monitoring is required to understand the true extent of the impact from the mine’s metals and compounds, KAPA officials claim.
Ugo Lapointe of MiningWatch Canada and co-founder of the BC Mining Law Reform Network, said in an announcement that, “This is clearly another example of why B.C. should strengthen its mining laws and oversight to ensure mine waste dumps do not put communities and watersheds at risk, and make sure mining companies have to pay to clean up their mess. Right now, they don’t.”
Morin’s report notes that pits surrounding the mine site were expected to prevent the mine’s contaminated groundwater from reaching Peterson Creek, but the most recent reports show that these pits have very limited effect on groundwater flow and that most contaminated groundwater from the mine site enters the aquifer, at least part of which reaches Peterson Creek.
Morin also notes that the total amount of mine waste rock was previously estimated to be around 15 million tonnes, however, more recent estimates are closer to 50 million tonnes.
In recent years, there has been interest to restart the old Ajax mine, resulting in significant local controversy. KAPA’s initial concerns coincided with an application by Poland-based KGHM Polska Miedź S.A. for a mining permit that included the former site. The B.C. government announced in late 2018 that it would not grant the project an environmental assessment certificate.
KAPA’s request to increase monitoring is supported by MiningWatch Canada, the BC Mining Law Reform Network, Kamloops Physicians for a Healthy Environment Society, the Kamloops Naturalist Club, the Sagebrush Neighbourhood Association, the Aberdeen Neighbourhood Association, and Kamloops Moms for Clean Air.