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).
In 2018 a milestone was celebrated by the Mount Polley Environmental Team (MPET) when the efforts of the remediation work rebuilding Hazeltine Creek witnessed the return of Rainbow Trout, Redside Shiners and Long Nose Suckers to the rebuilt part of the creek.
After the August 2014 tailings spill, fish from Polley Lake were prevented from entering Hazeltine Creek by fish fences above the Polley Lake Weir, while the habitat underwent reconstruction. During the winter of 2014-2015, the creek channel was cleaned up, tailings and debris removed, and a new Hazeltine Creek channel was built and rocked-in.
In April 2015, the Habitat
Remediation Working Group (HRWG*), including the T’exelc
First Nation (Williams Lake First Nation) and Xatśūll First Nation (Soda Creek
Indian Band) and their consultants, and Mount Polley Mining Corporation
(MPMC) representatives and their consultants (Envirowest and Golder), began discussing
options for constructing new fish habitat in upper Hazeltine Creek, and
requirements MPMC would need to meet in order for fish to be allowed to return
to the creek.
*HRWG also includes representatives of the federal
Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the provincial Ministry of Environment, and
the provincial Ministry of Forest Lands and Natural Resource Operations, both
water stewardship and fisheries sections.
Mount Polley employees, consultants, contractors, First Nations and community partners began ecological remediation work on Hazeltine Creek in 2015. By May 2015 the water in Hazeltine was running clear, and the bugs (invertebrates that provide food for fish) were starting to grow in the creek, so it was decided that the installation of new fish habitat could begin and this work started in 2016.
HRWG members looked at historical records to
determine what the local conditions were before the spill, and remediation
planning was based on that information. The planning was also constrained by the
configuration of the constructed rocked-in channel. The group agreed to a field
fit approach for the remediation. Conceptual designs were developed by Mount
Polley and their consultants, and the plans were reviewed by the HRWG.
The design approach was to naturalize the rocked-in channel by adding sinuosity (curves and bends), building a sequence of pools, riffles and weirs, and installing boulders, large woody debris and gravel at the bottom of the creek, to provide appropriate spawning and rearing habitat for the fish known to have used upper Hazeltine Creek before the spill, particularly Rainbow Trout, an important species in Polley Lake.
After two years of habitat construction (2016-2017)
approximately 2.5 km of spawning and rearing habitat was completed in the upper
part of Hazeltine creek from the outlet of Polley Lake to the Gavin Lake Road
Bridge. In late 2017, the MPET believed conditions were right to let the fish
back into the creek. There was habitat, flowing water, and food, and the water
quality met aquatic guidelines.
In December 2017, the HRWG began
detailed discussions on the approach to allowing the Rainbow Trout back into
Hazeltine Creek. Discussion included requirements for fish monitoring, water
quality, sediment quality, habitat quality and quantity, Polley Lake access and
egress etc, and the permits and licenses that Mount Polley would have to apply
for and comply with from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource
Operations and Rural Development Water Stewardship Group.
In March 2018, new fish fences were
installed in Hazeltine Creek approximately 2.6 km from the outlet of Polley
Lake to prevent fish from going further downstream than the area where habitat
reconstruction have been completed. On April 26, 2018, the fish fences at the
outlet of Polley Lake to Hazeltine Creek were removed and the Rainbow Trout
once again had access to the first 2.6 km of upper Hazeltine Creek.
Note: the lower part of Hazeltine Creek includes a
steep rock canyon that is a natural barrier preventing Quesnel Lake fish from
entering middle and upper Hazeltine Creek and Polley Lake. However, in the
natural creek system, fish from Polley Lake can be swept down the creek into
Quesnel Lake once all the fish habitat reconstruction is completed and fish
fences are removed.
In addition to ingress into Hazeltine Creek, the fish also needed to be able to return to Polley Lake. This required that a fishway (ladder) be built for the fish to bypass the Polley Lake Weir water control structure. An engineered fishway was installed by Mount Polley maintenance staff at the Polley Lake weir and the flows are monitored to properly maintain water levels for fish passage. The fishway was designed so the flow can be adapted to seasonal changes.
Fish monitoring was intense in 2018. MPET worked
with Minnow Environmental conducting weekly surveys of the fish populations to track
the 2018 spawn and fish activity. The surveys included counting fish at
established monitoring stations and pools, and observing how the fish used the
creek (i.e. seeking shelter under woody debris or behind boulders). Temperature
data and dissolved oxygen levels were also monitored in Hazeltine Creek.
Results of the 2018 Hazeltine Creek fish re-introduction were very impressive. Fish monitors estimated almost 5,000 Rainbow Trout accessed the creek to spawn in spring 2018. The spawn was successful. A spawning survey in July 2018 observed over 18,600 Rainbow Trout in upper Hazeltine Creek, the majority being from the 2018 spawn.
The Mount Polley remediation efforts have been underway for years. These efforts have benefited tremendously from the hard work of Mount Polley staff, Mount Polley’s First Nations partners, and local contractors and consultants from nearby Williams Lake. We think that its especially important to highlight the work of First Nations partners as the complementarity of environmental stewardship and responsible resource development is one that we are working to get right. We seek to accomplish this in partnership with all who have a stake in the natural wonder of where we live and work.
Mount Polley has remediation partnerships with the T’exelcemc Nation, the Xat’sull First Nation, along with the Secwepemc Nation. First Nations partners have advised and been integral to the remediation of Hazeltine Creek and other affected areas near the Mount Polley site.
Seed gathering and revegetation
Revegetation has been an important part of remediation. For example, members of the Xat’sull First Nation collected willows cuttings for subsequent planting as stakes. As a result, this work enchanced and strengthened the shoreline of Hazeltine Creek. These efforts are part of the 600,000 native shrubs and trees that have been planted. This planting was done in riparian and uplands areas near and at the affected sites. It was important to plant native species to the area. Seeds from vegetative species local to the affected area were incubated and grown in nurseries. Subsequently, these were planted when grown. The practice of seed gathering and spreading has been done on an annual basis. Along with nursery efforts, Mount Polley’s work has been extensive. The remediation project is working to restore the natural ecosystem and native vegetative species. These species include the Red Osier Dogwood and Douglas fir are now thriving.
Restoration of the vegetative species at the creek shorelines has been important for building fish spawning habitats. Thousands of rainbow trout have spawned in Hazeltine Creek. These trout now make up part of the natural habitat in Polley lake. The fish from Quesnel lake and Polley lake are safe to eat.
Mount Polley tailing spill to Mount Polley recovery
As a result, we’ve turned the corner since the Mount Polley tailings spill in 2014. Indeed, the Mount Polley remediation efforts have allowed the site to turn the corner into recovery. In a few short years, with a significant investment of over $70 million, Mount Polley is making things right and is developing new methods and refining best practices along with First Nations partners. Mount Polley is doing this to show that while Canada’s resource development sector gets it right most of the time, when it doesn’t, it makes it right.