UBC mine engineering professor Dirk van Zyl (left) is appointed to review the Mt. Polley mine tailings dam failure by Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett

New rules in effect for mine tailings ponds

Permits will specify dam construction, water level, motion detection and independent review, Mines Minister Bill Bennett says

The latest changes to B.C. mine regulations bring the province closer to its goal of preventing another tailings pond failure, says an independent expert who investigated the 2014 dam breach at Mt. Polley Mine.

Dirk van Zyl, professor of mining and the environment at the University of B.C. and one of three outside reviewers of the Mt. Polley failure, said the changes to B.C.’s Mining Code meet the recommendations made by engineers who examined the failure.

“These changes put B.C. in a leadership position and clearly set the groundwork for a more comprehensive approach to consistent tailings management in the province,” van Zyl said in a statement Wednesday. “It is another step towards the overall goal of moving to zero tailings storage facility failures.”

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said the changes to construction, water management and inspection can’t be expected to prevent every small release of water from a mine tailings pond in heavy rainfall. But he is confident the new regime will prevent major failures, even when unknown factors such as the weak layer under the Mt. Polley dam exist.

“Now we are prescribing a factor of safety that I think will account for the things you don’t know,” Bennett said.

Al Hoffman, B.C.’s Chief Inspector of Mines, said the new code has specific requirements for inside “beaches” to reduce pressure on the base of a tailings dam, the height of water allowed, the number of motion detectors on the dam and the frequency of inspections.

The new code requires every existing B.C. mine with a tailings pond to have an independent tailings review board in place by the end of 2016, with annual reports to be posted online.

That falls short of a recent recommendation by B.C. Auditor General Carol Bellringer that mine oversight should be independent of the ministry that issues permits and promotes mining investment. Bennett said he remains convinced that the technical nature of permits with hundreds of conditions makes the people who issue them the best qualified to enforce them.

NDP energy and mines critic Norm Macdonald said Mt. Polley was required to have supporting beaches and went for years without them, and also reported its water levels incorrectly before the dam failure. New rules will only make a difference if they are enforced, Macdonald said.

The Mt. Polley independent report concluded that a a layer of glacial till material at the base of the dam near Williams Lake wasn’t understood in enough detail when the dam was designed and built in 1997. Later raising of the dam to hold more water and tailings put pressure on the base layer and led to the failure.

The B.C. Conservation Officer Service continues its investigation of the Mt. Polley incident, and has authority to recommend charges for the environmental damage done by the failure.

The Mt. Polley dam has been repaired by owner Imperial Metals and the mine reopened, with work continuing to rebuild Hazeltine Creek and the shore of Quesnel Lake where a torrent of water and tailings poured down on Aug. 4, 2014.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Plans released for new outdoor pool in Enderby

City shares plans for pool’s location, cost estimates, design features and more

Vernon ‘schools are healthy’: IH medical health officer

Children have a low risk of catching and spreading COVID-19

North Okanagan-Shuswap MP: Throne speech shows failures in COVID-19 response

Mel Arnold critical of Trudeau government’s throne speech Wednesday

2020 overdose death toll rises to 73 in the Okanagan

Just under half of the deaths occurred in Kelowna

COVID-19 picture ‘much clearer,’ says Interior Health president

As fall routines set in, IH CEO Susan Brown reminds public to be vigilant in preventative practices

BC Liberal Leader talks drug addiction in the Lower Mainland

Drug addiction and public safety a top priority says Andrew Wilkinson

Kamloops Mounties happened upon alleged gang-related robbery, kidnapping

Michael Mathieson is charged with armed robbery, unlawful confinement and kidnapping

Pandemic derails CP Holiday Train

Canadian Pacific will work to get donations to food banks while also producing an online music concert

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Interior Health reports five new COVID-19 cases

Across the region, 34 cases are active

Vanderhoof’s Brian Frenkel takes on top job in tough times

We can get through this, new local government leader says

Penticton quadruple murder trial begins in Kelowna next month

John Brittain, 69, is facing three counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder

Historic BC Tree Fruits head office in Okanagan for sale

The company’s CEO said the decision was necessary due to a fickle fruit market

Most Read