Environmental Impacts of the Proposed Mine

Due to the very nature of the ore body and its location, the “New” Prosperity mine proposal has environmental risks and impacts that are unacceptable for the Tsilhqot’in people.  These include impacts to water, fish, grizzly bear habitat, moose habitat, migratory birds, and wetlands which support small mammals and other sensitive plant species.

Classic Image of Teztan Biny (Fish Lake)

Classic Image of Teztan Biny (Fish Lake)

Teztan Biny on “Life Support”

Taseko Mines Ltd. now claims that the “new” Prosperity Mine plan will “save” Teztan Biny (Fish Lake), and as a result, the issues which led to the previous rejection have been solved.  In our opinion, reinforced by the deficiencies in the proposal as identified by government regulators in November 2012, this is an over-simplistic public relations spin that fails to address the serious consequences of the proposed project.  In fact, on our review, the “new” proposal creates new environmental problems which the company has not resolved.

Company officials argued in the previous Panel hearings that alternative #2, now “New” Prosperity, would contaminate Teztan Biny over time:

What happens to the water quality in Fish Lake, if you try and preserve that body of water with the tailings facility right up against it, is that over time the water quality in Fish Lake will become equivalent to the water quality in the pore water of the tailings facility, particularly when it’s close.  You might be able to delay that by moving the tailings facility farther away to Fish Creek South.  You may even be able to minimize that, reduce it by mitigation measures that could be applied.  But eventually that water quality will change.” ~Scott Jones, V.P. Engineering, Taseko Mines Ltd., 2010 Panel Hearing Transcript, Vol. 29 (p. 5450) (Emphasis added)

Xeni member Trina Setah with Rainbow Trout from Yanah Biny

Xeni member Trina Setah with Rainbow Trout from Yanah Biny

Trout Habitat Still Destroyed

Both the physical and biological integrity of Teztan Biny remain threatened by the “new” proposal.  With the open pit engulfing Lower Fish Creek and approaching within 500 meters of the lake, a dam blocking Teztan Biny’s outflow, and a 12 square kilometer tailings pond upstream, over 80% of the catchment’s trout spawning habitat would be destroyed.  Yanah Biny (Little Fish Lake) and Upper Fish Creek would be buried under hundreds of millions of tonnes of potentially acid-generating tailings and waste rock.

Another major problem with the new proposal is its plan to divert groundwater destined for the open pit to Teztan Biny’s upstream tributaries via pipelines.  The lake would be literally on ‘life support’.  Upstream flows from the tailings pond would also have to be diverted to prevent contamination of Teztan Biny.  Whether the contaminated groundwater can indeed be ‘captured’, and for how long this will be required, are important questions that remain unanswered.

New Prosperity Water Management Plan Schematic (End of Year 16)
New Prosperity Water Management Plan Schematic (End of Year 16)

Water Mis-Management

The previous Panel concluded that water treatment to deal with water quality exceedances would likely be needed into the far future.  This is an unacceptable risk for both the Tsilhqot’in Nation but also a serious liability for the federal and provincial governments.

The previous Panel reported:

“Natural Resources Canada also questioned Taseko regarding the number of copper mines with similar ore characteristics to the Project that required treatment in perpetuity.  Taseko replied…5 were known to require ongoing water treatment” (p. 64).

“…in order to meet water quality objectives, it would be likely that the discharge water would require treatment; Taseko identified water treatment as a contingency measure only, but the Panel has concluded that water treatment would likely be required into the far future, thus potentially creating a future burden for governments…” (p. 243).

Of special concern to both the Tsilhqot’in and many British Columbians who value wild salmon, is the potential for downstream groundwater contamination far into the future and long after the mine is closed.  The Dasiqox (Taseko River) and Lower Taseko Lake are an important salmon fishery and part of the famous Chilko salmon run.  We advocate for the “precautionary approach” to be applied in this case, given the precarious state of the Fraser salmon and the potential for an additional negative cumulative effect.

Xeni member Edmond J. Lulua at Farwell Canyone dip-netting for salmon.

Xeni member Edmond J. Lulua at Farwell Canyone dip-netting for salmon.

Significant Cumulative Effects on Grizzly & Moose Habitat

Nabas – the wetlands and meadows which surround Yanah Biny (Little Fish Lake) and Teztan Biny – are vital grizzly bear and moose habitat.  We as Tsilhqot’in have long known that this area was an important game corridor.  It is why we go there to hunt and trap as well as fish.

The previous Panel found that the road from the mine to Hwy 20 would seriously disturb this rare wilderness and the South Chilcotin grizzly bear.

“the Project would likely result in high magnitude, long-term effects on the South Chilcotin grizzly bear population” due to “increased road traffic and further loss and fragmentation of habitat caused by the Project”  (p. v).

The significant adverse cumulative effects from the mine will not just affect the grizzly bear.  Moose populations have drastically dropped by 70% in our Territory in the last 5 years.  Given the importance of this area to moose, the mine would further endanger an already threatened population and a vital food source for the Tsilhqot’in.