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Mount Polley brings new cause for concern

The Fraser River watershed is the bloodline of our beautiful province. It reaches from deep in the Rocky Mountains and winds 1,375 kilometres south to the Straight of Georgia at Vancouver.
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The Fraser River watershed is the bloodline of our beautiful province.

It reaches from deep in the Rocky Mountains and winds 1,375 kilometres south to the Straight of Georgia at Vancouver. Its major tributaries, the Nechako, Quesnel, Chilko and Thompson Rivers, expand its watershed across the province. It provides vital habitat for endangered salmon and sturgeon, water for crops, recreation for fishers, support for local economies and a living connection between diverse regions. All of this is threatened when reckless mining operations pollute our watershed.

As a member of the Xat'sull First Nation, I live with the aftermath of the 2014 Mount Polley tailing dam collapse. Two years later, clogged water filters and slimy beaches at Quesnel Lake have replaced pristine waters.

We still fear for the Fraser River salmon who are born here and the long-term impacts on our connected survival. We are afraid to drink the water and afraid to eat the fish. The few tins of canned salmon the mine distributed to Xat'sull last December offer no comfort. 2016 was the worst year for returning salmon in my entire life.

Now we have new cause for concern. Mount Polley Mine is proposing to continuously dump partially treated wastewater into Quesnel Lake - which still contains mine waste from the dam collapse - and into groundwater via Bootjack Lake as their long-term water management plan. In other words, the company wants to use B.C.'s precious clean water to clean up its dirty mess.

It's an outrage.

Mount Polley wastewater does not meet all water quality guidelines "at the end of pipe." The company wants to dilute it in our lakes and rivers instead.

For a company who claims its decisions are based on science and not cost, this seems like a pretty low-tech solution that assumes unlimited clean water forever. It's also the cheapest and least invested solution that has been repeatedly refused by local and downstream communities.It doesn't take a scientist to see what's really going on.

B.C. routinely permits "dilution zones" from mines, but it is time to stop this madness and demand our health and livelihoods be protected. Seriously outdated mining laws and low water quality standards threaten us all.

The government's expert commission on the Mount Polley disaster estimates that there will be two dam failures every 10 years if we continue on without change. We must raise the bar on standards and demand best available technologies and practices. Our children's future - and the mighty Fraser Watershed - depends on it.

First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining, in collaboration with the Concerned Citizens of Quesnel Lake, is asking for support letters to protect clean water during the public comment period on Mount Polley's long-term water management plan.

Everyone who is connected to the mighty Fraser River for water and food or any other use should be alarmed. Everyone who lives near a mine in B.C. should be alarmed - serious precedents are being set with this decision. Please use your voice for change.

Let the B.C. Ministry of Environment know that, at minimum, Mount Polley Mine's long-term water management plan should meet all water quality guidelinesat the end of pipe, without needing to dilute it in the waterways of the Quesnel Lake/Bootjack Lake/Fraser River watershed.

You have until Dec. 23 this year to email comments, with the subject"Comments on technical assessment report," to: MtPolleyEnvironmental.Enquiries@gov.bc.ca.

Remember: what happens at Mount Polley doesn't stay at Mount Polley.

Jacinda Mack is an FNWARM coordinator.