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Council of Canadians in solidarity with Tsilhqot’in Nation against Gibraltar effluent discharges into the Fraser River

Fraser River

The Council of Canadians opposes the Vancouver-based Taseko Mines Ltd.-owned Gibraltar copper-molybdenum mine dumping untreated effluent into the Fraser River.

On September 27, the Vancouver Sun reported, “Taseko Mines Ltd. has applied to the province for a 50-per-cent increase in the water it discharges from its Gibraltar mine waste-storage facility [near Williams Lake] into the Fraser River. …The company has applied to increase the amount of water discharged from the tailings facility to 5.4 million cubic metres a year from 3.5 million cubic metres of water. …The pond includes water from mine processing that contains metals and also run-off from snow and rain, enough to fill 24,000 Olympic sized swimming pools… The application is for a temporary increase, but the company wants to be able to make it permanent eventually.”

By November, the B.C. environment ministry had given Gibraltar permission to increase its discharge of tailings into the Fraser River.

The newspaper notes, “In a written response to the The Vancouver Sun, B.C. Environment officials said many metals such as selenium, iron, lead, mercury, and total aluminum are much lower in the discharge than in water already in the Fraser River. Copper is about equal but some elements in the effluent are greater than naturally in the Fraser River and above water quality guidelines, such as sulphate, nitrite, and molybdenum. The idea is that the Fraser River would dilute the mine discharge, so water quality guidelines are met 100 metres below the discharge pipe, said the ministry.”

But, “Taseko has run into opposition from the Tsilhqot’in Nation which has concerns the tailings effluent will harm fish, including salmon and sturgeon. …The Tsilhqot’in Nation says it is opposed because the increased discharge will harm its rights and river water quality and increase risks to fish habitat, fish health, and the health of animals such as deer. It will also increase fears among First Nations on using fish from the river, they say. One of the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s member groups, the Esdilagh, have traditionally fished areas downstream of the discharge point on the Fraser River. The Tsilhqot’in say they want alternative locations and different types of water treatment to be considered.”

Bernie Mack, Chief of the ?Esdilagh of Tsilhqot’in Nation, has commented, “If this were a new mine, a water-treatment facility for discharged mine effluent would be a requirement for obtaining a permit. So why not for Gibraltar? …With this decision it seems the province has not raised its standards… Taseko recently approved $300 million in mine improvements for Gibraltar. At an estimated cost of $10 million, a water-treatment plant for the discharge would be slightly more than three per cent of that amount. We need Gibraltar to create a water-treatment facility now… Gibraltar has been dumping tailings effluent into the river for more than two years, but there is no integrated management plan for the Fraser River system or any understanding of how much it can handle and when we reach the point of no return. …?Esdilagh is not opposed to mining and its role in the provincial economy, but increased discharge from Gibraltar will harm the quality of the river water and heighten risks to all who depend on it.”

And Tsilhqot’in Nation tribal chairman Joe Alphonse says, “We are not opposed to development, but is has to be responsible development. [Taseko’s] only interest is to make as much money in the cheapest possible way they can do that. So, you need intervention … [to] make sure that they are held to a very high standard.”

During the recent federal election, the Liberals stated, “Stephen Harper’s changes to the Fisheries Act, and his elimination of the Navigable Waters Protection Act, have weakened environmental protections. We will review these changes, restore lost protections, and incorporate more modern safeguards.” It is our hope that given this pledge the Trudeau government could intervene in this situation.

The Fraser River is the longest river within British Columbia. It rises at the Fraser Pass near Mount Robson and flows for 1,375 kilometres into the Strait of Georgia at the city of Vancouver. The Tsilhqot’in name for the river is ʔElhdaqox, meaning Sturgeon (ʔElhda) River (Qox). The river’s name in the Halqemeylem (Upriver Halkomelem) language is Sto:lo. The river’s name in the Dakelh language is Lhtakoh. The river was the site of the first recorded settlements of the Musqueam, Sto:lo, St’at’imc, Secwepemc and Nlaka’pamux peoples.