The BC Auditor General’s audit of compliance and enforcement of the mining sector is strongly critical of the BC government’s failure to address environmental concerns in the Elk Valley. Selenium pollution has been accumulating over the past hundred years. While the problem has been recognized for well over a decade, the province’s failure to take action has allowed selenium levels to significantly degrade water quality and impact fish and wildlife. Yet, while the selenium levels continue to rise, and the waste rock piles – the source of the issue – continue to grow, several new mining proposals and expansions are being considered.
The province must take action to restore ecosystem health in the region by addressing the water management concerns and securing intact landscapes. No further development should be allowed that would increase selenium levels. Existing mines must be regulated and the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan standards enforced for reducing existing pollution. The results of water monitoring should be available to the public. Wildlife Management Areas should be created and a national park designated in part of the Flathead River Valley in order to ensure the long term health of the region’s wild ecosystems.
The Auditor General warned of the environmental liability for taxpayers if mining companies cannot cover cleanup costs. This is particularly relevant in the Elk Valley with the planned reliance on water treatment plants that must be operated in perpetuity. The government must require sufficient bonding to ensure that required treatment systems continue operating into the future without public funds.