British Columbia·Photos

Mount Polley Mine tailings breach: 'The devastation up the lake is unbelievable'

Residents in central B.C. are worried about the environmental impact of contamination from the huge tailings pond breach at the Mount Polley gold and copper mine.

Residents worry about environmental impact of contamination

Residents affected by the wastewater spill from Imperial Metals's Mount Polley copper and gold mine near Likely, B.C., are worried about the impact on their health and the environment. 

"The tailings pond is so full of chemicals. The water is green, fish floating.... It's sad," Lawna Bourassa said.

Bourassa's husband took photos and video of the debris in Quesnel Lake, the deepest lake in the province, which is located in the heart of the Cariboo Mountains.

An estimated 10 million cubic metres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of metals-laden fine sand was released into Polley Lake. (Gary Zorn/Ecotours-B.C.)

"It's just really upsetting and we were just about to have the salmon run," she said.

The Likely, B.C., resident has been drinking bottled water since Monday, when officials announced a complete water ban for about 300 local residents.

The waterways affected by the ban, which earlier included Quesnel Lake, Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek and Cariboo Creek, now also include the entire Quesnel and Cariboo river systems right up to the salmon-bearing Fraser River.

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

"A lot of the community members are very upset at this time about it, because they feel it could have been looked after before it got to this," she said. 


"It's just really upsetting and we were just about to have the salmon run," local resident Lawna Bourassa told the CBC. (Lawna Bourassa)

Peggy Zorn lives on the Quesnel River and has a lodge in Likely, B.C., where she and her husband, Gary, own a tourism company.

"The devastation up the lake is unbelievable," Zorn said. 

Zorn said her husband has seen some of it firsthand.

"Hazeltine Creek, you could jump across it, and now from what Gary was saying, it's about 150 feet wide. All that debris, the scar on the mountain now is incredible.

"It is going to affect our business," Zorn added. "We're an internationally known tourism operation and we don't know what the full impacts of this is going to be — especially to the environment and the wildlife and the fisheries." 

Zorn said she's worried about the wildlife.

"Our biggest concern at the moment is probably the salmon, how it's going to affect the salmon run." 

'Mount Polley should not be let off the hook'

A dead fish is floating in Quesnel Lake, B.C. after the Mount Polley Mine tailings pond breach. (Gary Zorn/Ecotours-B.C.)

Zorn is concerned about the permanent damage to Quesnel Lake, describing the waterway as a pristine lake before the contamination.

"People are drawing their drinking water direct from the lake. That's how pure that water was," she said.

"We live in a rare interior rainforest and nature does reclaim things here quickly, but I don't see that happening [here]." 

Zorn said she would like to see more stringent regulations on tailings ponds.

"This dam — the knowledge the experience, the engineers they have — this should never ever have happened to start with."

The B.C. government is investigating how the mine's tailings pond breached, spilling 10 billion litres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of metals-laden fine sand into waterways.

Imperial Metals president Brian Kynoch and Cariboo Regional District chair Al Richmond held a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, although it was plagued by technical problems.

You can read our blog of the conference as it happened below: