Rampant, environmentally unmonitored placer mining threatens Fraser River and salmon stocks
April 25, 2017
Williams Lake, BC Placer mining is a hidden danger that is polluting the Fraser River, and could be playing a part in diminishing salmon runs, new research shows.
Most industries that impact salmon are closely regulated, but placer mining is the exception. The Fair Mining Collaborative (FMC) conducted a deep dive of government records, historical records and other research to assess placer mining’s impact on the Fraser Watershed. The result – The New Gold Rush: Placer Mining in the Fraser Watershed – found Placer mining in the region has escalated in recent years, is poorly regulated, and its impacts are not monitored.
Key findings include:
- 1399 mine sites have been established since 1980, and 4019 Notice of Work (NOW) permits issued;
- At least 300 mines alone have been given such permits to operate since 2014;
- No records were found of a single environmental assessment – ever – involving any of these mines.
- A 2010 Ministry of Environment audit of placer mines found 50% of placer mines inspected were not following the law, either by working directly in streams, discharging tailings into streams.
- There is also significant smaller-scale hand mining activity. In 2015 almost 3,000 such claims reported work in BC, and the Fraser watershed is a key area for such operations;
- The watershed is also covered with old and forgotten mines dating back to the 1800s’ gold rush, many of which were never reclaimed and could still be polluting the watershed.
- The cumulative impacts of the hundreds of operational and thousands of historical mines in the Fraser watershed have not been assessed
- However, historical records show that from 1858-1909, placer mining added 110 million tonnes of tailings to the Fraser’s natural sediment load – seven times that of the 2014 Mount Polley disaster.
“The data and mine maps show the Fraser watershed is littered with existing and abandoned mines dating back to the 1850s and the government does not seem to care about the impacts,” said Bev Sellars, chair of First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining (FMWARM), which commissioned the research. “This makes no sense – we are risking so much for so little.”
“This watershed serves a region that is home to 2.7 million people and 80% of BC’s economic activity. The Fraser is one of the world’s most productive salmon river. Its watershed and fish have been essential to the survival and culture of our First Nations for countless generations and remain so,” said Sellars.
“And we are allowing this to be threatened by an industry that only earned BC taxpayers $64,945 in royalties and produced just $13 million in recorded gold in 2015,” said Sellars.
FMC Executive Director Amy Crook said: “The concern is broader than the direct pollution from all these placer mines. Because placer mining is hardly monitored, its impacts are not factored in when major mines are assessed and given limits on the amount of effluents they can introduce into water systems.”
“We need to know how the combined impacts affect the river system and fish, and those who depend on them,” said Crook. “We also need look more closely at how current and future placer mining activity may release the mercury and other toxins that settled on the river bottoms in the past.”
FMWARM’s Sellars, a member and former Chief of the Xat’sull (Soda Creek) First Nation, and author of bestsellers They Call Me Number One and Price Paid, said First Nations along the river have long noticed changes to the fish and water, and are increasingly afraid to use either.
“This is our life blood, it is being poisoned, and we need action now,” Sellars said.
FMC’s Fraser report reiterates three key recommendations from its March report on placer mine economics: A moratorium on future placer claim staking and work permits until the process is reformed; Engaging First Nations as full partners in designing new legislation and regulations; Making all placer mining contingent on respecting Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the Truth and Reconciliation Report’s recommendations.
It also recommends updating environmental assessment laws and regulations to include placer mining’s specific and cumulative impacts on sensitive habitats, and long-term assessment and monitoring of the impacts of previous, exiting and new placer mining, including the effects on salmon.
Fraser River report: http://www.fairmining.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/NewGoldRushpdf
Placer economics: http://www.fairmining.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/BCPlacer_Environment_Economic.pdf
FNWARM: Bev Sellars: Ph: 1-250-267-6924. Or [email protected]
FMC: Amy Crook: 1-250-871-3627