Photo: Laws against mine tailings in freshwater

Collection pond at Bell mine site beside Lake Babine. (Credit: LandKeepers)

Dumping mine tailings into lakes and rivers is illegal unless it's specifically permitted.
The Fisheries Act protects lakes and rivers, and prohibits the release of harmful substances into fish-bearing waters, and the alteration of fish habitat. But if the Minister gives permission, fish habitat can be destroyed.

A regulation under the Fisheries act allows depositing mine tailings in certain areas under certain circumstances if it helps protect the environment, called the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations.

These regulations were amended in 2002 in order to grandfather in five mining projects that were using lakes as tailing dumps before the regulations came into place. The new added "schedule" redefines any natural water body used as a dumping site as a "Tailings Impoundment Area". That means they're not protected by the Fisheries Act, and the mining company can use it to dump millions of tonnes of toxic tailings and waste rock.

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Now new mines are applying to get nearby pristine lakes classified as Tailing Impoundment Areas. It's a loophole that can save tens of millions of dollars in operating costs over the life of their mine. Why build and maintain a tailings pond if you can simply dispose of your waste in a natural lake basin?

Two lakes near Buchans, Newfoundland were approved for destruction in this way in 2006 (Trout Pond and Duck Pond). These lakes used to contain Atlantic salmon and brook trout and were also home to otters. They are now essentially biological dead zones. These were the precedent-setting lakes that squeaked through this questionable approval process.

Since then, international mining companies are requesting to use Canadian waters as dumping sites for their toxic waste. Applications have increased at an alarming rate.

But there is hope in sight. Because of citizen activism, a recent application was rejected. A mining company, Tesako Mines Limited, applied to use Fish Lake as a dumping site. After reviewing the application, and receiving a flood of letters, emails, and messages from people across Canada, the federal government rejected the application.

The site near Williams Lake, B.C., is known as Teztan Biny by First Nations, and is an important traditional site. It is home to a unique species of rainbow trout, and is one of the province's most productive trout fishing lakes. If the application went through, the lake would've been completely destroyed forever.

The Foundation's research and outreach, and our partnership with First Nations and other environmental groups, resulted in a terrific victory — Fish Lake will be protected from toxic mining waste.

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