After holding three open houses and encouraging the public to send in their feedback from April 9 to 30, the second consultation phase for Teck’s Elk Valley Water Quality Plan is complete.
The open houses were held in the last week of April and took place in Fernie, Sparwood, and Elkford. Each session ran from 5 to 8 pm, with a presentation at 6 pm, followed by a question and answer period. At the Elkford open house on April 23, a panel of Teck employees, a member of the Technical Advisory Committee, Lynn Kriwoken, executive director Water Protection and Sustainability Branch from the B.C. Ministry of Environment, and Judy Kirk from facilitator Kirk and Co. were present.
“The second round of consultation on the development of the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan was very successful, with 84 local residents attending open houses in Fernie, Elkford, and Sparwood, generating good discussion and feedback around water quality and the steps being proposed by Teck under the plan,” stated Nic Milligan, manager, Community and Aboriginal Affairs, Teck.
Milligan led the presentation in Elkford, reviewing the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan Phase Two Consultation Discussion Guide. He reinforced that Teck is continuing to work with communities, First Nations, and governments to create a plan that will maintain the health of the watershed and ensure continued, sustainable mining in the Elk Valley.
On March 21, 2013, the toxicity levels of the Elk River made front page news across the province as the results of a report commissioned by the Glacier National Park in Montana linked the effects of open pit coal mining on the water quality in the Elk Valley, including the Fording and Elk rivers and Lake Koocanusa. The Hauer and Sexton Transboundary Flathead River: Water Quality and Aquatic Life Use Report published on March 4, 2013 at the University of Montana stated that waterways in the Elk Basin below mine sites had elevated nitrate, sulfate, and selenium concentration levels.
This public consultation and development phase of the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan is a small part of the Order Teck Coal Ltd. was issued by former B.C. Minister of Environment Terry Lake on April 15, 2013. Bound by section 89 of the Environmental Management Act, Teck had 90 days to submit the plan’s Terms of Reference for the Ministry’s approval. The Terms of Reference were approved on July 22, giving Teck 12 months to complete the plan, which directs them to include public input.
“Current levels in the Elk River, the Fording River, and Lake Koocanusa are not expected to have adverse effects on the health of the aquatic ecosystem,” said Milligan. “However, selenium and nitrate in the upper Fording River are approaching levels where mitigation will be required to prevent adverse affects.”
He went on to say, “Nitrate levels are currently above the B.C. water quality guideline in the Fording River and in one section of the Elk River between the Fording River and Michel Creek. Levels in the lower Elk River and the upper Elk River, upstream of Fording River, are below the water quality guideline.”
The second phase of consultation has a large focus on Teck’s short, medium, and long term goals to achieve water quality targets.
“In the short term, we’ll be focusing on implementing proven measures that we know will have the most benefit on water quality,” remarked Milligan.
This includes the completion of a water quality treatment facility and the construction of a new water diversion at Line Creek Operations, as well as the construction of a water treatment facility at Fording River Operations.
“Construction of a water treatment facility at Fording River Operations is anticipated sometime in between 2017 and 2018,” said Milligan.
He added, “We will begin construction of an additional water treatment facility, the location and timing of which has yet to be determined.”
Residents in attendance at the Elkford open house had several questions concerning the plan, including: what impact did last year’s flooding have on selenium levels?; where will the Fording River treatment facility be?; how will Teck reduce nitrates while blasting?; how much time will it take for selenium levels to return to normal?; what research is being done to determine the chronic effects of selenium?; what has the effect of selenium been on birds?; what will happen to the selenium that is extracted?; how have drinking and private wells been affected?; and why are the selenium level guidelines different in Canada, the U.S., and the world?
When asked about the next steps, Milligan clarified, “We implement the plan, we monitor water quality constituents, water quality in the Elk Valley, and continue at the same time to conduct research and development.
“We evaluate our monitoring results and we learn what is working and adjust the Water Quality Plan… Then we go monitor that change and ensure that the plan is always achieving the best possible result throughout its implementation.”
Elkford Councillor Steve Fairbarn was curious to know what Teck’s commitment in the long term was. “If the mines shut down, temporarily or permanently… what happens to the monitoring, evaluation, and adjustment?” he asked. “Will ongoing water treatment occur and for how long?”
While Milligan could not give a firm answer on how long the treatment and action would continue, he did emphasize that Teck will maintain the plan into the future.
“We will continue as a company to have the environmental liability in terms of water quality, belief in our mine site, and the health of the water systems as long as Teck is able to accept the responsibility for water quality going forward,” responded Milligan.
All of the questions and comments received at the open houses and through the online feedback form will be gathered in a summary report that will be posted on Teck’s website in the next few weeks. There is one more round of public consultation currently slated for June.
“Afterwards, all of the input received during consultation will be considered, along with technical and socioeconomic information, in the development and refinement of the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan, prior to its submission to the B.C. Ministry of Environment for approval,” explained Milligan.
To view the Phase Two Consultation Guide, or for more information on Teck’s Elk Valley Water Quality Plan, go to www.teckelkvalley.com.