IMG_7087.jpg

Residents Refuse to Drink Water, Despite Ban Lift, After Mount Polley Mine Disaster

Residents in Likely, B.C. are concerned about drinking water affected by Mount Polley mining waste even after a water use ban was lifted for areas downstream of Quesnel Lake. The ban was put into effect on August 5, 2014, one day after the tailings pond at Mount Polley mine breached, sending billions of litres of mining waste into Hazeltine Creek, which feeds Quesnel Lake and Quesnel River.

The water advisory, released by the Cariboo Regional District, previously recommended not drinking water in the Quesnel Lake, Cariboo Creek, Hazeltine Creek and Polley Lake areas and extended down the entire Quesnel and Cariboo River systems to the Fraser River.

On Saturday the ban was lifted for areas south of 6236 Cedar Creek Road in Likely along the Quesnel River which flows north to Quesnel.

“They lifted the water ban, but I don’t know a lot of people who are going to drink that water,” Kyle Giesbrecht said. “I’m not drinking it.”

Giesbrecht, who works for PD Security, has been manning overnight shifts guarding the water supply provided to Likely residents by the Cariboo Regional District.

According to PD Security head of operations, Rick Honey, the water provided to Likely is guarded 24/7 and will be for an unspecified amount of time.

“The idea is that they don’t want anyone messing with the tanks,” Honey said.

“A lot of people are really upset about what’s going on. Most of them are retired,” Giesbrecht said.

“Most people moved out here for their little piece of heaven and now they’re worried that heaven will be gone. They’re worried about the water.”

Kyle Giesbrect says he won't drink the local water. Photo by Carol Linnitt.

“They’ve lifted the ban on the water here, for the river, because…it’s classified as drinkable. But they’re not sure how long it’s going to last or if it will last.”

Even thought they call it drinkable…I still don’t. I don’t trust it. Eventually those chemicals will come down,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

“Unless they’re testing every single day, that’s what we don’t know.”

Residents are free to take as much water as they need and temporary showers have been installed for use by residents.

Gerald MacBurney, a former tailings foreman with Imperial Metals, the company operating the mine, said he isn’t as concerned with the water that escaped the tailings pond as he is with the sediment lining the pond’s floor.

“That’s where all the nasty stuff is,” he said. “I don’t know how many hundreds of tons of scrap went into the lake because it’s hidden, but it’s the whole hillside that is going to drain in there.’

Gerald MacBurney, a former tailings foreman for Imperial Metals at the Mount Polley mine, says there's more to be worried about than just the tailings water. Photo by Carol Linnitt.

“It’s going to let out the toxins,” he said. “It’s crazy.”

Paddy Smith, a fisheries biologist with Cariboo Envirotech, said contaminants like mercury can affect a waterbody in unpredictable ways for years.

Fish is still highly contaminated with mercury in Jack of Clubs lake where mercury pollution from a gold smelter near Wells, B.C. occurred over half-a-century ago.

“There’s mercury here,” he said of the recent tailings pond breach. “They’ve got to monitor the fish populations, and the bottom feeders because – where does it go? – it goes to the bottom.”

The Quesnel River in Likely, B.C. is a local source of drinking water. Photo by Carol Linnitt.

“But [the spill] will be old news by the time any of those things occur here,” he said. “Those long-term issues sort of get forgotten.”

Another local, Denise Carlson, said she’s grateful her property is on well water.

“I personally wouldn’t drink [local water] but Health Canada says it’s okay. I know there are people on [Quesnel] lake who say they’re not going to drink it. They [the CRD] is continuing to bring in water but those people out of the ban, they’re also not using it to my knowledge.”

“Nobody knows enough about what’s in that water.”

“Out of sight, out of mind,” Carlson said, echoing concerns the long-term impacts will be overlooked.

Wild fields near Denise Carlson's home in Likely, B.C. Photo by Carol Linnitt.

“And the thing is the government and the mine are going to work towards that mentality – to make everybody forget,” she said.

Other local business owners declined to comment on the issue. One individual who did not want to be named said having an opinion on the contentious issue could hurt sales.

This article is published as part of a joint-venture between DeSmog Canada and the Vancouver Observer.

Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?
Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?

TC Energy staff claimed they got their ‘really good content’ published in the Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal is staying mum about an allegation it ran an editorial criticizing U.S. President Joe Biden using “really good content” supplied by...

Continue reading

Recent Posts

Our newsletter subscribers are the first to find out when we break a big story. Sign up for free →
An illustration, in yellow, of a computer, with an open envelope inside it with letter reading 'Breaking news.'
Our newsletter subscribers are the first to find out when we break a major investigation. Want in? Sign up for free to get the inside scoop on The Narwhal’s environment and climate reporting.
Hey, are you on our list?
An illustration, in yellow, of a computer, with an open envelope inside it with letter reading 'Breaking news.'
Our newsletter subscribers are the first to find out when we break a major investigation. Want in? Sign up for free to get the inside scoop on The Narwhal’s environment and climate reporting.
Hey, are you on our list?
An illustration, in yellow, of a computer, with an open envelope inside it with letter reading 'Breaking news.'