Despite Clear Environmental Risks, B.C. Refuses to Require Improved Water Monitoring at Closed Ajax Mine

MiningWatch Canada

MiningWatch Canada has obtained a letter from George Heyman, British Columbia’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy to the Kamloops Area Preservation Association (KAPA) denying KAPA’s request for more stringent monitoring of contamination of Peterson Creek from waste rock at the Ajax Mine.

“This is another example of the distressing weakness of British Columbia’s environmental laws when it comes to toxic contaminants leaching from existing and closed mine sites,” states Jamie Kneen, National Program Co-Lead for MiningWatch.

KAPA asked that more rigorous monitoring of effluent from the Ajax Mine be conducted by the mine owner due to increasing levels of contaminants like molybdenum, arsenic and uranium being measured at the monitoring stations in and near the stretch of Peterson Creek as it flows past the minesite. Currently, only two samples are required a year at the mine’s monitoring stations. While the B.C. Government has added more monitoring stations to measure minesite contamination, this does not alter the conclusion by hydrogeologist, Dr. Kevin Morin, that the permit requirements remain woefully inadequate and ambiguous, lead to wrong interpretations and conclusions, and do not explain the dramatic increasing contamination of Peterson Creek by minesite-derived contaminants.

In 2020, Dr. Morin recommended continuous monitoring of water quality and stream flow to ensure the health of fish that occasionally migrate downstream from Jacko Lake to the Thompson River. In addition, Dr. Morin recommended that the permit be amended to provide for the establishment of many monitoring wells around the minesite.

“One of the weakest parts of the existing permit allowing effluent to be discharged from the mine into the Peterson Creek watershed is that discharge from the mine be limited to an average rate of 25 cubic metres a day. However, none of the annual reports filed by the mine owner with the government has ever provided any data measuring this discharge,” Kneen notes. “We have no idea whether the mine is in compliance with the permit,” Kneen adds.

“The B.C. Government continues to drag its feet on implementing Dr. Morin’s recommendations for more rigorous monitoring of contamination from the Ajax mine,” Kneen contends. “Meanwhile, the threats to aquatic habitat, and to downstream residents who use water from Peterson Creek and Jacko Lake for irrigation and domestic purposes remain unaddressed,” Kneen concludes.

The closed Ajax mine is owned by the Polish company KGHM, whose proposal to develop a new, larger Ajax mine near the old one is better known. That project was opposed by many Kamloops residents and organisations and was rejected by the Stk'emlupsemc Te Secwepemc Nation through its Indigenous Review Process; it was subsequently also turned down by both federal and provincial governments.

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