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Canadian dam fails, over 1 billion gallons of wastewater spilled

By Hope Miller 9:54 PM August 6, 2014
ANCHORAGE –

A Canadian tailings pond dam in southcentral British Columbia failed to hold back an estimated 10 million cubic meters of water and 4.5 million cubic meters of fine sand early Monday, spurring a water ban for a nearby community and raising concerns that have spread to Alaska.

The amount of water spilled would fill roughly 2,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, the CBC reported, and prompted a local state of emergency. Wednesday, Mount Polley Mining Corp. was formally ordered to submit clean-up plans to officials and stop further release of mine tailings into waterways. The cause of the breach has not been determined.

Mount Polley, an open-pit copper and gold mine, is located about 370 miles from Vancouver.

The Cariboo Regional District in B.C. announced a water-use ban for the area Monday, advising people to only use bottled water until further notice. As of Tuesday, the district advised people to not drink from various creeks and lakes, as well as the Quesnel and Cariboo river systems right to the Fraser River.

Following the dam breach, people expressed concern about this year’s sockeye salmon return. The peak migration of sockeye salmon for the Quesnel system — an area potentially affected by the tailings pond spill — will occur later this month, reported the Vancouver Sun.

Salmon concerns reached Alaska, as the state has a salmon treaty with Canada that includes the Fraser River. At the moment, Brian Lynch with the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association says Alaskan salmon and fishermen aren’t affected.

The breach has also fueled worries surrounding other mining projects. Wednesday, Sen. Mark Begich sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry about the dam failure.

“This week’s failure of the Mount Polley tailings pond dam in British Columbia validates fears Alaska fishermen have regarding Canada’s proposed development of large-scale hardrock mineral mines near trans-boundary rivers with Alaska,” Begich wrote.

Lynch echoed some of those concerns in an interview with KRBD. Approval is pending for the Kerr Sulphurets Mitchell (KSM) Mine near Ketchikan. Mines have also been proposed near the Unuk, Taku and Stikine rivers.

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