The remediation of Hazeltine Creek has been planned and advanced through the direct collaboration of Mount Polley mine employees, government agencies, First Nations and their technical advisors. This collective is called the Habitat Remediation Working Group (HRWG).
Recently, members of Mount Polley mine, Golder Associates Ltd, FLNRO (Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development) and the Xatśūll First Nation attended a September 2020 HRWG tour.
On the tour the HRWG inspected the construction of habitat features in Lower Hazeltine Creek. The group also inspected the weir and fish ladder at Polley Lake, the functioning spawning habitat in Upper Hazeltine Creek and the terrestrial plant growth in Polley Flats.
The group viewed all stages of remediation, from installation of habitat features to a remediated ecosystem in Upper Hazeltine Creek that is maturing into a self-sustaining landscape used by all manners of life forms.
Discussions on the tour included: • Local nursery plant sources; • Local contractors support in the remediation efforts; • Reflections on how far the remediation has advanced; • Reopening plans for the mine; • Plans for the continued use of the weir on Polley Lake for flood control and fish rearing in Hazeltine Creek until the plants in the terrestrial flood plain mature; and • In stream habitat features installed are potentially superior to those that existed pre-2014.
Below are some photos from the tour (September 2020).
Lately we have received questions about the water quality at Quesnel Lake, so here are a few Q&A’s which address this subject.
First, what it means to conduct remediation?
According to the BC Environmental Management Act, “remediation” means action to eliminate, limit, correct, counteract, mitigate or remove any contaminant or the adverse effects on the environment or human health of any contaminant.
At Mount Polley, using the results of the detailed site investigations, and the human healthand ecological risk assessments, the goal of the mine’s environmental remediation work is to repair and rehabilitate the areas impacted by the tailings spill such that they are on a path to self-sustaining ecological processes that result in productive and connected habitats for aquatic and terrestrial species.
As the impacts of the spill were determined to be primarily physical and not chemical, this has meant that the focus of the work has been on repairing and rebuilding habitats.
Where can I find data about the water quality in Quesnel Lake?
The BC government website hosts an interactive mapof surface water monitoring sites in the Province which gives access to results of water sampling and analyses, including Quesnel Lake and other surface water sites around the area of the mine.
Why was the decision made to leave the tailings at the bottom of Quesnel Lake?
Research and monitoring of the physical and chemical stability of the tailings on the bottom of Quesnel Lake indicate that they are not causing pollution and studies of the bottom-dwelling (benthic) organisms have shown that they are slowly recolonizing the lake bottom as native sediment slowly deposits on top of the organic-poor tailings, bringing organic matter to the lake floor.
After completing a Net Environmental Benefit (NEB) assessment, experts recommended that the best approach for remediation of the tailings in Quesnel Lake was to leave them alone and cause no further disturbance.
The experts determined that any attempt to remove the tailings could significantly disrupt the present ecosystem and set back the progress that had already occurred.
Remediation at Mount Polley is all about creating the conditions for successful natural recovery, and not doing more damage.
In the Mount Polley
Mine, run-of-mine ore from the open pits and underground is hauled to the
crusher. The crusher has three stages of
crushing involving five crushers, twenty conveyors and four sets of screens. Ore is dumped by the surface mining fleet
into the feed pocket of the primary gyratory crusher, and is then crushed in
three stages to produce a product at finer than 16 mm for the grinding circuit.
Periodically, the crusher also used for the production of aggregates used in
tailings construction and other tasks.
The grinding circuit
consists of two parallel rod mill/ball mill circuits and a pebble mill circuit.
Crusher product is first split between two rod mills where water is added to
form slurries. The rod mill discharge is
pumped to the primary hydrocyclones that classify the particles by size. The larger particles flow to feed the ball
mills while the fine particles report to two flash flotation cells. The ball
mills are in “closed circuit”, meaning that the discharge is pumped to the
classifying units (primary hydrocyclones) and the particles will not pass to
the next grinding stage until they are fine enough to feed through the flash
flotation cells. The underflow from the
flash flotation cells is pumped to the secondary hydrocyclones, the flash
flotation product can report directly to the concentrate circuit or to regrind
for further upgrading.
The coarse particles
classified by the secondary hydrocyclones reports to three pebble mills for
further size reduction. The pebble mills are in “closed circuit” with the
secondary hydrocyclones and product that is sized at 65% finer than 200-mesh is
fed to the flotation circuit. Pebbles obtained from the triple deck screen in
the crusher are used as grinding media in the pebble mills.
The flotation circuit
separates the valuable minerals from the rest of the crushed rocks. With the
addition of reagents, the valuable minerals, mostly in the form of sulphide
minerals chalcopyrite and bornite, are separated by flotation and are collected
and upgraded to produce a concentrate. Initial separation is completed in a
rougher/scavenger circuit, where the remaining minerals are discarded as
tailings (which flow by gravity to the Tailings Storage Facility). Rougher concentrate is reground in a regrind
mill and further upgraded in a cleaner circuit to produce the final concentrate
product. Cleaner tailings are recycled to the scavenger circuit.
The concentrate from
the flotation circuit is dewatered in two stages: the thickener settles
particles and decants water so that the settled particles form a sludge by
sedimentation and have a reduced water content of roughly 25%-30%; pressure
filtration further reduces water content to approximately 8%. The water removed
is utilized as process water. The filtered concentrate is stored in the
load-out building and loaded onto 40-tonne trucks for shipping. Tailings
materials generated by mill operations are piped via gravity to the TSF.
At Mount Polley, we look for individuals to
join our workforce who display a variety of skills and training levels.
We have a training department that will train
workers from other industries.
Our key goal is to source workers locally. The
furthest away workers are usually recruited from is Quesnel or Williams Lake.
Several of Mount Polley’s staff are from Big Lake, Horsefly, and Likely, and
live near the mine.
Staffing Numbers at Mount Polley
When Mount Polley is in full operation, we have
as many as 370 staff working on rotation at the mine, most often in four crews.
Shifts are typically a 12-hour day shift and
12-hour night shift; four crews; seven days on, seven days off.
Additionally, we have about 50 support staff including administrators, supervisors, warehouse workers, engineers, geologists, assayers, technical personnel, and human resource staff.
The area around Likely has a long and fascinating
history of placer mining. Placer mining refers to mining materials (mostly
gold) deposited in ancient stream beds that are still largely unconsolidated (i.e.
relatively loose materials).
Some of the earliest gold discoveries in the area were made in 1859, one in the Horsefly River, and one in the Dancing Bill Gulch. The latter became known as the China Pit and then the Bullion Pit, and is located just downstream of Likely on the west side of the Quesnel River. The Bullion Pit is now a local historic site with a public walking trail.
Placer gold was also discovered near the mouth of
Keithley Creek on the Cariboo River about 12 km upstream from Quesnel Forks in
July 1860. Other significant discoveries were subsequently made just 4 km south
of Likely on Cedar Creek, and in Quesnel River itself.
In 1897, the Golden River Canal Co. decided to build a dam across the Quesnel River at the outlet from Quesnel Lake in order to block the river and be able to work the gravels from the bottom of the river. The tent town that developed on the site was known as ‘Quesnel Dam’. In 1920, the dam was dynamited and the remnants of the dam can be seen just north of the Likely Bridge in Likely. After the removal of the dam, the residents decided to rename the town ‘Likely’ after a local prospector, John Likely.
The Bullion Pit ulimately became a very significant gold producer in the area. BC Minfile report number 093A 025 states that “In 1897, the Consolidated Hydraulic Mining Company commenced full scale operations and between 1898 and 1902, the company processed 5,912,700 cubic metres of mixed materials, recovering 1,402,316 grams of gold at a recoverable grade of 0.132 grams per tonne gold… Estimations indicate that a total of 200 million tonnes of material were removed by hydraulic methods and 5.463 million grams (175,644 ounces) of gold were produced.” Indications are that much of this material was discharged directly into the Quesnel River.
The shortage of water in the early 1900s led the operators of the Bullion Pit to construct a number of water control and diversion works on local streams and lakes to gather water for the hydraulic operations at the pit. Photos from the BC archives, including ones featured in the TV program “Gold Trails and Ghost Towns – The Bullion Pit episode”, document weirs and diversion ditches built on Polley Lake and Hazeltine Creek and other creeks in the area.
This Facebook page gives regular updates on the areas in BC that were part of the mine’s early gold mining history.
Many placer mines continue to operate in the area around Likely, including near Quesnel Forks. Quesnel Forks is a restored ghost town located 12 km outside of Likely with a rich mining history and is also worth a visit. It is situated at the point where Cariboo River meets the Quesnel River, and features a beautiful campground and a number of restored and partially restored old buildings.
We hope that you and your family are staying safe and following the preventative measures and actions you can take to stay healthy and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
We are doing our part during COVID-19. Imperial Metals Mount Polley mine has donated two boxes of N95 masks and four boxes of surgical gloves to the Williams Lake Hospital.
Newcrest-Imperial Metals Red Chris mine is providing additional medical support in Iskut, Dease Lake and Telegraph Creek, and is working with the Tahltan Nation to support the provision of basic groceries to the Iskut, Dease Lake and Telegraph Creek communities. In addition, Newcrest will help source health and sanitary supplies pending availability and lead times.
There has been recent speculation about whether or not Mount
Polley is dumping waste into Quesnel Lake. In short, the answer is no. Current treatment of water at Mount Polley,
including the dilution zone at depth in Quesnel Lake, ensures water released
into Quesnel Lake is in line with BC and Canadian water quality standards.
Mount Polley discharges only treated mine site water that meets strict
Environmental Management Act (EMA) permit guidelines.
All mine site water is collected and is
treated by a Veolia ACTIFLO™ water treatment plant before it is released into
Quesnel Lake. (see veoliawatertech.com
for more information on their treatment systems and how they work.) The water
going into the WTP (influent) is monitored on an ongoing basis (measurements of
turbidity every 15 seconds) and the treated water leaving the plant (effluent)
is sampled regularly for analysis. The lake water quality is also routinely
monitored and sampled regularly as part of the mine’s Comprehensive
Environmental Monitoring Plan.
The following are facts that explore, in more detail, the
discharge from Mount Polley into Quesnel Lake. We hope this information provides
factual clarity about Mount Polley’s approved activities.
Is Mount Polley’s discharge having negative effects on Quesnel Lake?
are no indications in the monitoring data that the Mount Polley discharge is
having any negative effects on Quesnel Lake water quality. If you are
interested in looking at some of the water quality data that has been collected
on surface water in the area around the Mount Polley Mine, the results are
available through the BC
Government Surface Water Monitoring Sites Interactive Map
Is the water in Quesnel Lake contaminated? Is it safe to drink?
At this time, there are
no indications of contamination of Quesnel Lake water from the Mount Polley
spill. The mine, and the Ministry of Environment and Environment Canada,
continue to monitor Quesnel Lake. With the exception of natural causes, the
lake does not exceed environmental guidelines for any of the constituents of
concern that are found in the Mount Polley tailings.
As early as August 12, 2014, BC’s Interior Health
Authority (IHA) rescinded all water use restrictions from Quesnel Lake
(including for “drinking water, personal use, fishing, swimming and
recreational purposes”), except for the immediate impact zone where
Hazeltine Creek entered Quesnel Lake. The IHA notice also stated that “Interior
Health has no reason to believe that this water was ever exposed to unsafe
levels of contaminants from the mine breach. As a result, flushing and testing
of individual water supply systems is not considered necessary.”
All water use
restrictions were fully rescinded July 13, 2015. (Note: IHA always
advises that surface water be treated for pathogens prior to use/consumption.)
How much is the mine discharging into Quesnel Lake?
Management Act permit annual average authorized discharge rate is 29,000 cubic
meters per day. The actual discharge rate depends upon the rainfall experienced
at site which varies from year to year. In 2019, the annual average discharge
rate has been 14,883 cubic meters per day, significantly less than the mine’s
Did you know that over the past six
years, over 39 community meetings have been organized and hosted by Mount
Polley management and environmental staff?
Mount Polley is committed to the
environment and to ensuring the community is kept up to date on remediation
Over 24 meetings have been held in
Likely, the community in closest proximity to the Mount Polley mine. Meetings
have also been held in the communities of Quesnel, Horsefly, Big Lake and
These meetings provide an opportunity
for local residents to learn about the activities and progress of the
remediation work and research programs being conducted, and the opportunity to
engage and ask questions.
There is still work being done to
complete the rebuilding of fish habitat in Hazeltine Creek. The rebuilding and
revegetating of the lower part of the creek will be the last part of the
remediation work to be done.
Guest speakers have included
consultants and representatives from provincial Ministries who help educate the
local community about environmental remediation.
Furthermore Mount Polley has
established The Mount Polley Mine Public Liaison Committee (PLC).The PLC is
comprised of representatives from the local communities of Likely, Big Lake,
Horsefly and Williams Lake, local First Nations, government ministries,
consultants and mine staff.
Meetings are held on a quarterly basis,
with the purpose to share information about activities at the mine site with
the PLC members, who are there as representatives of their communities. The
agenda for each meeting includes updates on mine operations, environmental
monitoring, and remediation. There is also a roundtable discussion at each
meeting for all participants to pose questions and discuss any community
Katie: “My name is Katie McMahen. I was born and raised here in Williams Lake and I was a member of the environmental team here at Mount Polley for a number of years. Although it was a really devastating event, as scientists we want to learn what we can out of this work that’s going on and so we’re studying methods for restoring functioning forest ecosystems, methods for rehabilitating the soil, and trying to improve best practices, really. Since day one, we’ve been doing a ton of environmental monitoring and really prioritizing fixing up the creek.
“So I love the forest, and I love working and rehabilitating the forest, so some of the coolest work we’ve been doing is not just the replanting of trees, but trying to trying to create the right conditions for those trees to thrive. So, managing the tailings, doing some techniques to really make nice little sites for the trees to grow and so that they had the proper soil conditions.”
Gabriel: “My name is Gabriel Holmes, and I grew up in Likely, British Columbia, and I’m an environmental technician here, I’ve worked here since 2011. I’m really proud of reintroducing the fish into the creeks – there’s a whole bunch of things I could go on and on – but reintroducing fish into Hazeltine Creek was a real milestone, the success of the spawning last year of the rainbow trout and Hazeltine Creek, a real milestone. The vegetative communities that are developing in our terrestrial landscapes in riparian areas and then of course this year, seeing a number of sockeye salmon in Edney Creek. I’m really proud to see that occur because that’s one of our end goals that we were trying to accomplish and to see them utilizing the system today, it’s fantastic.”
Katie: “I’m super proud of the work that we’ve done here. One of the biggest challenges has just been the scale of the work that we’ve had to do, and so considering it’s only five years now since the breach, just the sheer amount of work that’s been done in those five years is amazing. When I look back it feels like way longer because I can’t believe how much we’ve done.
“We’ve really set a high precedent for what needs to happen following an incident like this and that the type of work that can be done and should be done to clean up sites. There’s a lot of information that needs to get out there about what what’s the actual environmental conditions and the fact that we have thriving rainbow trout in the creek and tons of wildlife and animals using the habitat that we’ve created. It’s going to take some years for everything to grow, but these ecosystems are well on their way to recovery.”