An active water treatment plant at an Elk Valley coal mine will treat up to 7.5 million litres of water per day once it reaches full capacity later this year.
On October 4, Teck Coal announced the restart and recommissioning of the West Line Creek Active Water Treatment Facility (AWTF) had begun following upgrades to the plant.
Located at Teck’s Line Creek Operations near Elkford, the AWTF was built to remove selenium and nitrate from mine-affected water as part of Teck’s work to implement the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan, which aims to stabilize and reverse the increasing trend of selenium and other substances in the watershed.
A new advanced oxidation process (AOP) has been incorporated into facility operations at West Line Creek to address a challenge related to selenium compounds in the treated water.
Selenium is a naturally-occurring element essential to humans and animals. However, when present in increased concentrations, as can happen through coal mining when selenium is released from waste rock, it can impact ecosystems.
Four years ago, the West Line Creek AWTF was temporarily shut down after a fish mortality incident occurred in the area of the water treatment works.
The fish kill is believed to have been caused by levels of certain constituents unintentionally discharged into the water during commissioning and resulted in environmental charges against Teck, which was fined $1.425 million.
Teck said the AOP will also be incorporated into future water treatment facilities.
“Teck is committed to supporting the environmental and economic wellbeing of the Elk Valley,” said Robin Sheremeta, Senior Vice President, Coal. “We are committed to taking the steps necessary to achieve the objectives of the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan, including major investments in ongoing research, monitoring, and water treatment facilities such as the West Line Creek facility.”
Recommissioning of the plant started on August 30 and is expected to take approximately four months, with the facility to reach design capacity by late December.
Once fully operational, the West Line Creek AWTF will treat up to 7.5 million litres of water per day, reducing selenium concentrations by about 96 per cent and nitrate concentrations by more than 99 per cent.
Teck is in the process of building another plant at Fording River Operations north of Elkford, which will treat 20 millions of litres of water per day once completed. The Fording River South Active Water Treatment Facility is expected to be operational by 2020.
Last week, The Free Press reported:
An active water treatment facility at an Elk Valley coal mine is only weeks from reopening.
Teck Coal hosted a water quality talk in Fernie on September 27, where staff confirmed installation of new water treatment technology at the West Line Creek Active Water Treatment Facility was complete.
Testing is now underway and the plant is expected to reopen within the next couple of weeks.
It was shut down after harmful amounts of mining-related constituents were found to have been discharged into the water during commissioning, resulting in a fish kill in October 2014 and environmental charges against Teck, which was fined $1.425 million.
Last year, the mining company announced it had identified a solution to the problem – a new advanced oxidation process.
The reopening of the plant should address compliance issues at a water quality monitoring station near the Line Creek mine, which were highlighted during Teck’s presentation last week.
Mike Moore oversees the water quality monitoring program and explained that Teck’s compliance with water quality limits under Permit 107517 was monitored at eight compliance stations placed downstream of mines and seven order stations scattered throughout the Elk Valley.
He said while more than 95 per cent of samples have been in compliance since the permit was issued in 2014, Teck continued to exceed permit limits at two locations, Fording River and Line Creek.
According to Moore, the permit limit at Line Creek was lowered in 2016, however, concentrations of nitrate have been higher than expected along with release time.
“The concentrations are starting to go down, they’re not going down as fast as originally thought during the development of the (water quality) plan,” he said.
Moore said the West Line Creek AWTF should help bring Line Creek back into compliance with the permit.
In response to the exceedances, Teck also launched an extensive aquatic health sampling program to determine if these “higher than expected” nitrate concentrations were having an effect on the local ecosystem.
It was found to have negligible potential effects on fish or amphibians and potential for less than 20 per cent effects on sensitive invertebrate species.
“We’re going to continue monitoring the aquatic life in that area as we have been until we start to see the nitrate concentrations going down,” said Moore.
At Fording River, Teck continues to work towards relocating a compliance station where 11 permit level exceedances were recorded for selenium during the 2016 surface monitoring program. Teck has argued that the Fording River site is not a representative location for compliance monitoring due to natural hydrologic conditions.
“We’re not getting an accurate picture of what’s happening at Fording River downstream,” said Moore.
About 30 people attended the September 27 talk, which was the second in a water quality series hosted by Teck in Fernie.
The community is also invited to attend the Environmental Monitoring Committee (EMC) Annual Public Meeting in Elkford on October 17.
The EMC was created under Permit 107517 and is made up of representatives from the province, Ktunaxa Nation Council, Teck and an independent scientist. The fourth annual meeting will be held in Teck Hall at the Elkford Community Conference Centre from 6 p.m. on October 17.
Residents’ views on water quality
John Poirier, Elk River Alliance director
I’m a fly fisherman, I fish the river a lot here. About four years ago, Teck hired meto do a trout study which is still ongoing, so yeah, I have a big interest in water, trout and insects… I have a concern aboutthat huge tailing pond at the Upper Fording. It’s huge, it should be called a lake not a pond. If that dam ever let go, you and Iwould be washed down to Elko… what happens when Teck goes bankrupt or moves… who looks after that dam? Who looksafter the water treatment plants when Teck leaves? Is it the public who picks up the tab? Usually that’s the case.
Mandy McGregor, Elkford Councillor
We have concerns about quality and quantity in a nutshell. I want to know what themines are doing, how they’re doing it, why they’re doing it, where they’re doing it and how’s it going to affect us. We’re at thetop of the Valley, so whatever the mine does should be a consideration to Elkford, and whatever decisions we make shouldmost definitely be a consideration to Sparwood and Fernie because it all runs downhill. We’ve got to keep tabs on what themine is doing and not only that, but rumour has it there are funky fish coming out and I want to know if there’s any truth to it.
Steve Fairbairn, Elkford Councillor
We’re here because we’re on the Elk River and water quality is important for everybody.Without water you can’t live. With changes in precipitation and snowfall, and the hotter, drier summers, what happens to thevolume of water coming down the Elk River, what happens to the volume of water that’s released from Pétain Glacier as itrecedes? That is impacting the environment now, it’s something that the communities, we have to be looking at.
Randal Macnair, Wildsight Elk Valley Conservation Coordinator
The update to the water quality plan is imminent, so I wantto be here and find out firsthand what they’re up to and what their plans are. They’re pretty forthcoming and it’s a good placeto also gauge the community because there are some community members here, to see what people are feeling about thework Teck is doing. Water quality and the issues that come with coal mining in particular are critical to us. We’ll be assessingthe new water quality plan once it comes out. We keep tabs on the data that comes out of that plan and the data Teck submitsto the Government, and it’s not just Teck – we believe it’s ultimately incumbent upon government to ensure that the industrythat we have taking place on public land, that affects public waterways, that the government watches over that appropriately.