On August 4, 2014, the Mount Polley gold and copper mine's 4-square kilometre tailings pond failed, dumping over 24 million cubic meters of water and mine tailings into surrounding waterways. It was the first catastrophic mine failure in the province's history. The impact is still being understood.
The breach deposited tailings waste containing nickel, arsenic, selenium, copper, aluminum and lead into the Quesnel Lake, previously described by Premier Christy Clark as one of the "most pristine, cleanest lakes in the world." The annual salmon return is of economic, social, cultural and nutritional significance to Indigenous peoples within the Secwepemc Nation and surrounding Indigenous territories.
Many are asking if Quesnel Lake and its tributaries have been irreversibly contaminated. Some no longer trust the safety of the water or fish. Residents have not been compensated for their losses or the harms they suffered, and note that instead the company has been rewarded through the renewal of its operation license and approval of long-term mine water disposal into Quesnel Lake.
To date, little has been done to ensure history will not repeat itself. In fact, the mine has since re-opened and resumed full operations despite ongoing investigations. The BC Ministry of the Environment outlined a number of actions it has taken since the disaster, but did not address in detail any specific questions about water testing, public consultation, health impacts on Indigenous peoples, or financial commitments.
British Columbia's mining laws, regulations and policies urgently need reform to bring them in line with Canada's international human rights obligations. Without action, both people and the environment remain at risk.