Take action on British Columbia mines that threaten Washington waters

Take action on British Columbia mines that threaten Washington waters

Conservation Northwest / Feb 19, 2021 / Action Alert, Healthy Watersheds, Mining

WILD NW Action Alert #314: Ask your state lawmakers to sign a letter calling for mining reform in British Columbia to protect Washington waters downstream.

Southern British Columbia has become a dangerous hotspot for toxic pollution from mines in watersheds that flow into Washington state. According to the B.C. government, there are several dozen mining operations and exploration projects underway within a radius of about 50 miles of the Washington-B.C. border.

A mining proposal in the headwaters of the Skagit River, which would threaten Puget Sound’s healthiest remaining runs of Chinook salmon and steelhead, has generated an outcry from Washington tribes, conservationists, fishermen and elected leaders. A lesser known but equally alarming proposal to expand the Copper Mountain Mine would threaten the Similkameen River, which flows into the Columbia River watershed.

Join us in taking action by contacting state legislators and Governor Jay Inslee! 

Washington State Senator Jesse Salomon is circulating a letter addressed to B.C. Premier John Horgan and is requesting signatures from others in the Washington Legislature. The letter requests the Premier undertake needed reforms to the province’s regulation of industrial mines, including its financial assurances system to require that mine operators cover the financial costs of water pollution impacts and other environmental harms after closing the mine as is already required in Washington.

Use our simple form to contact your state legislators and urge them to sign Senator Salomon’s letter, and to call on Governor Inslee to request mining reform in B.C.!

You can also learn more in this fact sheet or on our Healthy Watersheds Campaign webpage.

The Copper Mountain Mine in the transboundary Similkameen Watershed threatens waters that flow into the Columbia River, wildlife and fish including Endangered Chinook salmon and steelhead, and communities downstream, including the Colville Tribes and Upper and Lower Similkameen Indian Bands. Click to enlarge.

The threat from Copper Mountain Mine

The Copper Mountain Mine presents a significant number of compliance issues and pollution violations, despite numerous orders and warnings from inspectors. Since 2011, the B.C. provincial government has issued as many as 40 different instances of non-compliance, many of which are related to unauthorized discharges of pollution to the Similkameen River watershed.

To make matters worse, the owners of Copper Mountain are moving to expand the operations, increasing production by 70 percent and raising the current tailings dam (which holds toxic mining waste) to 853 ft, which would make it taller than the Seattle Space Needle.

Toxic mud and tailings pond water devastated local ecosystems and runs of sockeye salmon after the 2014 Mount Polley Mine disaster.

B.C.’s own expert panel predicts there will be two tailings dam failures every ten years and six every thirty years, so the question is not a matter of if there will be a disaster, but when.

Learn more about the Similkameen Watershed in this blog from our Executive Director Mitch Friedman.

So long as B.C. maintains its lax regulatory, financial liability and enforcement mechanisms for industrial mining, such a catastrophe is inevitable, as we’ve seen during past mining disasters including the 2014 tailings dam failure at the Mount Polley Mine.

British Columbia should adopt strong bonding requirements for its mines that ensure environmental harms are eliminated and communities on the both sides of the border are not left liable for mining pollution or spills.

Please take action by contacting your state senator and representatives, asking them to sign onto Senator Salomon’s letter. Our suggested comments are also copied below. Then, please share our video or forward this action alert to friends or family!

 

Suggested email to Washington state lawmakers:

Dear legislator,

As your constituent, I am writing to ask that you sign onto Senator Jesse Salomon’s letter requesting British Columbia Premier John Horgan to undertake needed reforms to the province’s regulation of mines to protect downstream communities, fish and wildlife in Washington. To match mining requirements in Washington state, B.C. must reform its financial assurances system to require that mine operators cover the financial costs of water pollution impacts and other environmental harms after closing the mine.

More information on this issue is available in this short video: https://youtu.be/Pdfvz-rCeOY and in this fact sheet: http://bit.ly/PDF-Mining-Threats-Similkameen-River

According to the B.C. government, there are several dozen mining operating and exploration projects under way within a radius of about 50 miles of our shared border. Of particular concern are the proposed mine in the headwaters of the Skagit River, submitted by the same company responsible for the devastating Mount Polley mine disaster in 2014, as well as the proposed expansion of the Copper Mountain Mine in the Similkameen Watershed, threatening the entire Columbia River system.

Not only are these rivers vital for our dwindling wild salmon populations, but they directly impact the health of Washingtonians, who depend on our watersheds for clean water, recreation opportunities, and other essential resources. Any threat to transboundary waters is a threat to all Washingtonians.

The B.C. government has made a promise to review and update its mining regulations, including financial assurance policies. Please help to ensure the Legislative Assembly and Premier Horgan make good on this promise and that particular attention be paid to projects in watersheds that flow downstream into U.S.

The failure of the tailings dams for these mines are not a question of if, but when. To prevent these inevitable events from having catastrophic impacts downstream, I urge you as a member of the Washington State Legislature to please sign Senator Salomon’s letter and send a distinct and public message to the B.C. provincial government that Washington is deeply concerned about this growing threat.

Sincerely,

Your name here

THANK YOU FOR TAKING ACTION! LEARN MORE ABOUT MINING THREATS TO THE SIMILKAMEEN AND SKAGIT RIVERS, OR CHECK OUT OUR HEALTHY WATERSHEDS CAMPAIGN.
The Copper Mountain Mine, including the tailings dam shown here, presents a significant number of compliance issues and pollution violations, despite numerous orders and warnings from inspectors. To make matters worse, the owners of Copper Mountain are moving to expand the operations, increasing production by 70 percent and raising the current tailings dam (which holds toxic mining waste) to 853 ft, which would make it taller than the Seattle Space Needle. Photo by Edgar Bullon.