Doug Watt was sleeping the night the Mount Polley mine’s tailings dam released, dumping its contents into Hazeltine Creek, which flows into the west arm of Quesnel Lake near his home in Likely, B.C.
It was the early morning of Aug. 4, 2014, and Watt, who lives about seven kilometres from the mine site, says he wasn’t aware of the breach until a 6:30 a.m. call from the local fire and rescue service woke him. The first thing he noticed was the sound.
“It was quite a shock,” he says. “We went outside, and you could hear it down the lake. It sounded like a distant Niagara Falls.”
The gold and copper mine deposited nearly 25 million cubic metres of mine waste into the Fraser watershed that day — roughly equal to the volume of water flowing over Niagara Falls every two-and-a-half hours. It left a toxic slurry that remains on the lakebed today. Data showed the lake rose several inches overnight, Watt says.
Seven years later, mine waste continues to flow from Mount Polley into Quesnel Lake under a permit issued by the B.C. government.
That permit was meant to be temporary, a stopgap measure to prevent another spill while mine owner Imperial Metals developed long-term wastewater solutions.
Now a local citizen’s group is fighting proposed amendments that could allow mine waste dumped into Quesnel Lake well into the future.
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