British Columbians are reeling this week at the news of a failed retaining dam at the Mount Polley mine in the Quesnel Lake watershed. The catastrophic failure of the dam which held arsenic, lead, and phosphate laced tailings from a mine owned by Imperial Metals released a tidal wave of toxic sediment and water, smothering the valley of Hazeltine Creek under 1 billion litres of water and 4.5 cubic meters worth of toxic sediment slurry. The watershed is under a total water use ban, meaning no swimming, no drinking, no fishing, just in time for the arrival of the annual arrival of a million or so spawning sockeye into Quesnel Lake and its tributaries.
While the catastrophe has come as a shock to many around the province, First Nations in the area have been calling for improved oversight and caution at the site since 2011 when a report suggested the tailings dam was unsafe and in need of retrofit. Indeed, the failure of the tailings dam at the Mount Polley is the logical conclusion of a regulatory environment around mining in British Columbia that is permissive, vague, and fails to enforce its own rules. As Stephen Hume points out in a recent column the current Liberal Party government of BC has cut the number of mine inspectors by 50% since 2001, all in the name of saving tax payers money. Now taxpayers will likely get to foot a hefty portion of the bill for the cleanup. Meanwhile society, and in particular First Nations who rely on salmon in the Quesnel Lake watershed will bear the cost of an irresponsible and out of control industry that has been aided and abetted by the Provincial government.
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Stephen Hume's editorial: