British Columbia

Mount Polley mine spill: Water quality test results within drinking guidelines

The first water quality test results since the Mount Polley tailings pond breach have been publicly released, as B.C. Premier Christy Clark meets with concerned residents of the town of Likely.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark tells Likely, B.C. residents 'Our hearts are with you'

The first water quality test results since the breach of the Mount Polley Mine's tailings pond have been publicly released, as B.C. Premier Christy Clark meets with concerned residents in the town of Likely.

The breach of the tailings pond dam at the copper and gold mine near Likely, B.C., released 10 billion litres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of metals-laden fine sand, contaminating several lakes, creeks and rivers in the Cariboo region on Monday.

B.C. Environment Ministry tests sampled water collected since the day of the devastating spill, from several locations in Quesnel Lake, to determine potential impacts on drinking water quality and aquatic life.

An explanatory note, from the ministry's impact assessment​ head Gabriele Matscha​, posted with the results on the ministry's website, states that the water remains within drinking-quality guidelines and aquatic life is not expected to be impacted

"Samples collected near the town site of Likely and on the north shore of Quesnel Lake indicate that none of the analyzed chemical and physical contaminant concentrations exceeded B.C. or Health Canada drinking water guidelines," Matscha​ writes.

On mobile? Click here for full drinking water and aquatic guidelines tests and explanatory note

The samples were tested for pH, conductivity, turbidity, total suspended solids, total dissolved solids, hardness, alkalinity, total and dissolved metals, and E.coli.

Matscha also pointed out that fish tissue samples have not yet been collected, but that is planned in the near future. Water samples have still not been taken from Polley Lake.

Residents were advised Monday not to drink, bathe or swim in the water until officials determine what's in it.

Interior Health, the regional health authority, said it will keep the ongoing water advisory in place because it believes further testing is needed since these tests are preliminary and based on a small sample.

Christy Clark: 'Our hearts are with you'

Meanwhile, B.C. Premier Christy Clark met with Likely residents concerned for their water safety and livelihoods after the accidental release of contaminated mine tailings and water from the Mount Polley Mine site.

She said the chief medical health officer would be making the decisions about whether the water is safe for residents to drink, but she hoped the initial test results provided some answers for the local community.

"Everybody across British Columbia, our hearts are with you," Clark told gathered residents. "This is a pristine resource for everybody, but for nobody more than you. And I know it's just been a terrible, terrible heartache."

Clark said the cause of the breach remained a mystery, but once that had been established, the province would decide what it would do differently.

"We are going to be with you, shoulder to shoulder, to do everything we can to return it to the real pristine beauty we all know this lake is for our province, because this is just such an incredible, incredible asset and so important to all of you."

Clark was due to share the water quality test results at an outdoor meeting next to the river at 3 p.m. PT. However, the meeting was moved at the last moment to a different location.

Earlier in the day the B.C. premier took part in a First Nations healing ceremony as she travelled around the remote community and the larger centre of Williams Lake.

During the ceremony, Clark was smudged with ceremonial charcoal, as members of the Esk'etemc Seqwyitsk band prayed and sung for healing of the water and the environment impacted by the spill.

As debris drifted past on the river behind them, one First Nations speaker said he believed there was poison coming down the river, and another said she felt as though there had been a death in the family.

'Deeply troubling environmental crisis'

Meanwhile, the Assembly of First Nations called for immediate action to limit the damage done by what they called a "developing and deeply troubling environmental crisis."

"There are immediate risks to the residents, the environment and the economy — particularly the fisheries,​" said AFN BC Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould in a press release.

"This area is upstream from the Fraser River and is a major spawning ground for salmon, both of which are integral to Indigenous peoples culture and way of life."

Association of First Nations Alberta Regional Chief Cameron Alexis, who oversees the environment portfolio for the AFN, said First Nations communities are often the first to feel the impact of environmental changes.

 "First Nations and many Canadians continue to be concerned about the weakening of environmental standards and protection of waterways and fish habitats as a result of recent changes to legislation," said Alexis in the same statement. 

"We must focus on the need to include First Nations in early planning and mitigation as well as monitoring the long-term effects where our lands and traditional territories are concerned. This is our right and this approach will benefit all Canadians."

The tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., released 10 billion litres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of metals-laden fine sand, contaminating lakes, creeks and rivers in the region. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The spill happened in First Nations Secwepemc Territory, whose leaders have called upon Imperial Metals to shut down business within the Secwepemc Nation and called for a moratorium on mining within their territory.

The Secwepemc Women Warrior Society, representing the women of the First Nation, announced Thursday they intended to stage a protest outside the Toronto Stock Exchange to voice opposition to the company.

"I am torn about the Imperial Metals tailings spill that has wreaked havoc on my homelands, since my family and [Aboriginal] Peoples have been fighting this same mine for years," said the society's Kanahus Manuel in a press release.

"We will send our war cries into the universe. Let's force the Toronto Stock Exchange to pull Imperial Metals off the TSX."

Save-On-Foods donates water

Save-On-Foods stepped forward Wednesday, confirming that it is partnering with the Red Cross to donate and distribute 18,000, 500 ml bottles of water and 1,440 four-litre bottles of water.

The Cariboo Regional District's emergency operations centre confirmed the water bottles would be available to residents in need starting at 8:45 a.m. PT Thursday at the Likely Community Hall.

Al Richmond, speaking for the Cariboo Regional District, said that water for bathing and washing is another matter.

"Our focus has been to increase the capacity we have for potable water in the community of Likely. We have also been trying to secure portable shower facilities," he said. "We have had some difficulty doing that. We have located some: We are looking for an ETA of their arrival."

In the meantime, boom boats and barges have been active on Quesnel Lake, moving and collecting islands of washed-down trees.

Mining company Imperial Metals is also continuing work to shore up the walls of the failed tailings containment pond to prevent further discharges.

B.C.'s Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Energy and Mines have begun a full investigation into the impacts and cause of the catastrophe.