Hundreds of people living and camping in a small community southeast of Quesnel are dealing with the aftermath of a tailings pond failure.
A tailings pond at Mount Polley, near the town of Likely, broke early this morning, sending millions of cubic meters of toxic wastewater gushing out.
Up to 200 residents and many other campers are now not allowed to use water for drinking, bathing or washing, and are being told to stay out of lakes and rivers.
Update as of 8pm
A water ban has been expanded after a mine’s tailings pond breached early this morning in the Cariboo.
The Cariboo Regional District’s Al Richmond says the ban now extends almost to Quesnel itself.
“We have expanded the water ban based on the concerns that we have with the affluent from the breach continuing to flow. The solid debris is not threatening the bridge in Quesnel but there are some concerns about the volume that have been going through. The area from Quesnel river right down to where it hits the Fraser at the city of Quesnel is now an area where we are recommending people don’t take the water or use for recreational purposes.”
Environmental Impacts Unknown.
Richmond says they are trying to figure out the environmental impacts of the breach. “The debris itself that would be the trees the roots the stuff you see in the river is currently, they are saying is grounded at the point it hits the river from the creek. What we don’t know is how much sediment has proceeded down the creek hence the expansion of the water ban.”
Al Richmond with the Cariboo Regional District on Hazeltine Creek: “At one point it was four feet wide and now, in spots, it’s 150 feet wide. So there’s been a substantial amount of debris. Of course, when that amount of water hits an area it takes a lot of the natural vegetation and trees along with it.”
Richmond says the flow reached both the Quesnel and Polly Lakes, but the worst of it appears to have stopped before entering that water.
Owner of the Northern Lights Lodge near Quesnel Lake, Skeed Borkowski, says his beautiful lake has been compromised by what he calls an avoidable tailings pond breach.
“The standards of building these berms, I think they are all avoidable. We didn’t have an earthquake, this isn’t an act of god, this is a man made structure that should have been fool proof.”
The President of the Likely Chamber of Commerce says “It’s catastrophic. It’s the nightmare that every single mine, and every little community that has a mine has nightmares about.”
Robyn Hood says he fears the torrent of debris and chemicals mixed into the local water system will have lasting effects.
“Environmental and economical. I mean our community is resource extraction tourism orientated little community in the wilderness, and I don’t know how bad this stuff is that’s gone in to the lake, but it sounds pretty scary. The other thing is, there is a whole pile of debris that got washed into the lake.”
Hood says the Cedar Point campground has also been evacuated.
Marie Hampton is one of the first responders with Likely Fire and Rescue.
Fish Dead, Drinking Water Compromised.
“A lot of people draw their water at the lake. Drinking water is a huge issue for a huge issue for a lot the cabins and people who are out on a long weekend.”
Hampton says many fish are already dead.
The founder of both BC Rivers Day and World Rivers Day says the breach will be damaging to the aquatic eco system.
River conservationist Mark Angelo says it’s a toxic spill and heavy metals have been released into local water ways.
“It’s particularly worrisome to me, knowing that when you talk about this spill eventually finding its way into Quesnel lake, the Quesnel River, and even the Fraser, those systems or so significant in terms of salmon populations.”
Angelo predicts the environmental impacts with be long-lasting.
The Ministry of Environment says it’s working with the regional district, and that “further monitoring and testing of waterways will be required before the full extent of potential environmental impacts can be determined.”
Mining company Imperial Metal has yet to return phone calls.
It has also not tweeted and also has not posted anything on its website.