BRITISH COLUMBIA – The Mt. Washington copper mine may have been a small open pit on Vancouver Island, but when it went bankrupt in 1967 after only three years of operation, it became a huge pollution problem for Tsolum River watershed. The mine was located 25 km northwest of Courtenay at 1,500 metres above sea level. It has been an acid drainage nightmare for over 40 years.
Since 2001, a group of environmental NGO’s, government agencies, and forestry and mining companies, known as the Tsolum River Partnership, have been working to clean up the environmental contamination. Working together, the group secured $4.5 million in provincial funding in 2008.
Two environmental firms, Quantum Murray and SRK Consulting, have been leading the clean up by literally placing a lining cover over the top of the five hectare mine site to prevent continued toxic runoff into the Tsolum River. The lining was covered with organic material to facilitate revegetation and to protect it from long-term weathering and damage. The planting of new vegetation has been scheduled to be completed by Stantec and Quantum Murray in 2011.
The improved water quality has also shown evidence in encouraging biological recovery of the river. The aquatic insect population, an important food supply for salmon and trout, has returned, leading the way for the return of larger populations of salmon and trout. The early results are encouraging. In 2009, 40,000 pink salmon returned to the Tsolum River while cutthroat trout populations also improved; and in 2010, more coho were observed returning to the Tsolum than have been seen since 1999. It is estimated that 1,000 coho returned and spawned in the Tsolum in 2010. With the revegetation plan commencing while other benefits of the clean up continue, the copper levels at the mine site and in the Tsolum River should continue to decrease over the next few years while aquatic life begins to thrive.
The Tsolum River Partnership includes the Tsolum River Restoration Society, TimberWest Forest, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, British Columbia Ministry of Environment, British Columbia Ministry of Natural Resources, Pacific Salmon Foundation, Mining Association of British Columbia, Natural Resources Canada, NVI Mines, and Environment Canada. For more information and to keep up-to-date with what is happening in the Tsolum River watershed please visit www.TsolumRiver.org. Click the link on the home page to see a four-minute video of the project. Or phone Jack Minard at 250-897-4670 of the Tsolum River Restoration Society.