Tailings contaminate lake

Contributed Cariboo Regional District

7:30 P.M. UPDATE FROM The Canadian Press 

Authorities are expanding a water-use ban to include the Quesnel and Cariboo Rivers up to the Fraser River after a tailings pond southeast of Quesnel was breached, sending millions of cubic metres of waste water into nearby roads and waterways.

An initial ban advised all residents living around the Mount Polley mine area, near the town of Likely, to use only bottled water until further notice.

The advisory affected hundreds of people living around Quesnel Lake, Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek and Cariboo Creek.

The ban has since been expanded to include anyone living along the Quesnel and Cariboo Rivers.

Authorities are asking people in the region to stop using water from both rivers.

Those areas are sparsely populated and the Cariboo Regional District has not determined how many people have been affected.

People in Quesnel are also being asked to avoid using water from the Quesnel River.

The ban does not apply to people in Williams Lake or other towns along the Fraser River.

Authorities had previously said Likely was not directly affected, because it was unclear how many people in the town used water from Quesnel Lake.

But 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.

Al Richmond, chair of the district, said search and rescue crews evacuated campers in the Mount Polley area. But shelters have not been provided for them, as they appear to have set up camp elsewhere without any problems.

Early Monday morning, the earthen dam holding waste water from the Mount Polley mine was breached, sending its contents into Hazeltine Creek, Richmond said.

He said most of the waste appears to have been contained in the creek, though some of the material has flowed into Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake.

"The majority of the slurry and the debris was contained at the mouth of the creek," said Richmond. "While there has been some flow of that material into the lake, it hasn't been substantial in consideration of the size of the spill."

The width of the creek has swollen in size because of the washout.

"At one time it was four feet and now it's 150 feet," he said.

The Horsefly-Likely Road, which joins Likely to the town of Horsefly, has been washed out, and authorities have closed it down until cleanup crews finish making repairs.

The Cariboo Regional District has not received any reports of injuries or people getting sick from drinking water.

No property damage reports have been filed, though that may change with time, Richmond said.

The Ministry of Environment said it is working to determine how much environmental damage has been done.

"Further monitoring and testing of waterways will be required before the full extent of potential environmental impacts can be determined," the ministry said in a written statement.

Water test results are expected in days.

No other details have been released as authorities are trying to determine the cause and extent of the breach.

Mount Polley is an open pit copper and gold mine owned by the Imperial Metals Corporation (TSX:III).

The company has been involved on the construction or operation of seven mines, the majority in British Columbia.

Requests for comment from Imperial were not immediately returned.

Tailings ponds contain waste water from mines.

1:50 p.m. update:

The Cariboo Regional District has received the following information from the helicopter reconnaissance taken this morning.

A small amount of debris backed into Polley Lake. The main slurry flow went down Hazletine Creek where it meets Quesnel Lake. The slurry and a large debris pile appear to be stationary at this point. Hazleton Creek was originally about four feet wide and is now up to 150 feet wide.

Waterways affected by this event include Quesnel Lake, Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek and Cariboo Creek. Additionally the Horsefly Likely Forest Service Road (Ditch Road) has been washed out at Hazeltine Creek. The Likely Bridge is not affected at this time.

A water-use ban remains in place and includes recreational water activities, bathing, and drinking. Everyone in this area should use bottled water until further notice.

For accurate and up to date information, please visit the Cariboo Regional District’s Emergency Operations Facebook page atfacebook.com/CRDemergencyoperations or the CRD web site at cariboord.ca. 
A public information line has been established at 250-398-5581.

A tailings pond that borders Quesnel lake has broken its barriers and spilled into the salmon habitat and water source for the town of Likely, BC.

The tailings pond belongs to Imperial Metals corporation's Mount Polley gold and copper mine. The pond was held in place by an earthen dam which burst early Monday morning.

Local residents are being asked to boil their water until testing can be completed by Interior Health.

"A complete water ban has been issued for the waterways near the Mount Polley Mine. This includes all recreational water activities, bathing, drinking and so on. This order is in effect until further notice," reads the Cariboo Regional District's Facebook page.

250news.com is reporting the breach occurred around 3 a.m., spilling the contents of the four square kilometre tailings pond into Polley and Quesnel lakes.

They also said some smaller roads have been washed out due to the spill. 

The Cariboo Regional District is working with the RCMP, Emergency Management BC, Central Cariboo Search and Rescue, Mount Polley, Interior Health and other associated agencies to determine the extent and possible impacts of the breach.

Helicopter reconnaissance is underway and further information will be released as it becomes available.

A spokesperson for the Mount Polley Mining Corporation said they would not be disclosing any information to the public at this time.

A public information line in the CRD Emergency Operations Centre has been established at 250-398-5581.


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