Teck just announced the shutdown of their Line Creek water treatment plant, which was designed to remove selenium from water flowing from the mine waste dumps, but was actually increasing the amount of toxic selenium in fish downstream.
Selenium, which leaches from the waste rock dumps at the Elk Valley mines, is taken up by fish, birds and amphibians in concentrations that can prevent reproduction and cause birth defects.
While Teck plans an advanced oxidation process add-on to the treatment plant for summer 2018, there still is no long-term solution for the selenium leaching problem which will continue for many centuries.
Teck’s government-mandated Elk Valley Water Quality Plan calls for two water treatment plants to be online by 2018 in order to meet the short-term selenium reduction goals in the plan. It’s clear that Teck won’t be able to meet their commitment to have two working treatment plants by 2018.
Teck is working very hard on the short-term treatment options for selenium pollution, but this problem has been known since the 90s and it’s time to move beyond band-aid solutions. Teck can’t keep piling up more selenium-leaching waste rock while chasing short-term solutions—treatment plants that won’t be operating for the centuries that selenium will continue to leach out of the waste rock dumps, long after mining is finished.
We’re long overdue for a change in mining practices, so that the waste rock being dumped today isn’t making the long-term selenium problem worse.
The 2010 report from the independent Strategic Advisory Panel on Selenium Management urged Teck to make material changes to their mining practices to prevent selenium from leaching into water in the first place. These recommendations have largely been ignored while all of Teck’s efforts have focused on water treatment.
We need to get all levels of government to the table to address the long-term selenium pollution issue. We’re looking at centuries of water pollution and we desperately need some leadership from government.
As water flowing from the Elk Valley mines crosses into the US in Koocanusa Reservoir, the selenium pollution problem is an international issue that needs a long term solution. Wildsight supports the Ktunaxa Nation’s call, along with the US Kootenai tribes, for a binational commission with the US, with the participation of all levels of government, to address selenium and other water quality issues that flow from the Elk Valley.
Southern Rockies Program Manager