After the spill, a population monitoring program on Polley Lake indicated there had probably been a reduction in the age class of the population of Rainbow Trout (as upper Hazeltine Creek was the main spawning area for these trout). There was spawning observed in Frypan Creek at the north end of Polley Lake, however it was noted to be a much smaller habitat. The Mount Polley Environmental Team (MPET) recognized it was important to allow the fish to spawn in Hazeltine Creek, but the Habitat Remediation Working Group (HRWG) had concerns whether the spawn in the reconstructed Hazeltine Creek would be successful.
The MPET developed a backup plan. With guidance provided by Minnow Environmental and David Petkovich (Aqua-culturist), over 11,000 Rainbow Trout fry were raised in an on-site fish hatchery in spring 2018. Eggs were harvested and fertilized from some of the local Rainbow Trout that had returned to upper Hazeltine Creek to spawn.
The fertilized eggs were incubated in trays so temperature, flow and dissolved oxygen levels could be regularly monitored. Water intake was sourced from below the thermocline in Polley Lake in order to maintain cooler water temperatures.
Within two months, the eggs hatched into alevins (yolk-sac fry) and within another two weeks the yolk sacs were completely absorbed. Throughout the incubation stage the eggs were counted, and unfertilized eggs removed.
The fry were then transferred from the incubation trays to shallow rearing tanks. When the fish reached their target biomass, they were transferred into deeper rearing tanks, and from there released into the Polley Lake watershed.
The MPET and Minnow Environmental released over 11,100 Rainbow trout fry from the hatchery into Polley Lake on September 25 and 26, 2018. The adipose fins from each fry were clipped as a means of tagging (identification). On the second day, students, parents and a teacher from Columneetza Middle School’s Greenologists / Enviro Club based in Williams Lake assisted with the Rainbow Trout fry release
Mount Polley strongly encourages Polley Lake fishers to report if they catch fish with a clipped adipose fin to firstname.lastname@example.org. This will help the MPET determine how successfully the hatchery trout are surviving. Thank you!
In 2018 a milestone was celebrated by the Mount Polley Environmental Team (MPET) when the efforts of the remediation work rebuilding Hazeltine Creek witnessed the return of Rainbow Trout, Redside Shiners and Long Nose Suckers to the rebuilt part of the creek.
After the August 2014 tailings spill, fish from Polley Lake were prevented from entering Hazeltine Creek by fish fences above the Polley Lake Weir, while the habitat underwent reconstruction. During the winter of 2014-2015, the creek channel was cleaned up, tailings and debris removed, and a new Hazeltine Creek channel was built and rocked-in.
In April 2015, the Habitat
Remediation Working Group (HRWG*), including the T’exelc
First Nation (Williams Lake First Nation) and Xatśūll First Nation (Soda Creek
Indian Band) and their consultants, and Mount Polley Mining Corporation
(MPMC) representatives and their consultants (Envirowest and Golder), began discussing
options for constructing new fish habitat in upper Hazeltine Creek, and
requirements MPMC would need to meet in order for fish to be allowed to return
to the creek.
*HRWG also includes representatives of the federal
Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the provincial Ministry of Environment, and
the provincial Ministry of Forest Lands and Natural Resource Operations, both
water stewardship and fisheries sections.
Mount Polley employees, consultants, contractors, First Nations and community partners began ecological remediation work on Hazeltine Creek in 2015. By May 2015 the water in Hazeltine was running clear, and the bugs (invertebrates that provide food for fish) were starting to grow in the creek, so it was decided that the installation of new fish habitat could begin and this work started in 2016.
HRWG members looked at historical records to
determine what the local conditions were before the spill, and remediation
planning was based on that information. The planning was also constrained by the
configuration of the constructed rocked-in channel. The group agreed to a field
fit approach for the remediation. Conceptual designs were developed by Mount
Polley and their consultants, and the plans were reviewed by the HRWG.
The design approach was to naturalize the rocked-in channel by adding sinuosity (curves and bends), building a sequence of pools, riffles and weirs, and installing boulders, large woody debris and gravel at the bottom of the creek, to provide appropriate spawning and rearing habitat for the fish known to have used upper Hazeltine Creek before the spill, particularly Rainbow Trout, an important species in Polley Lake.
After two years of habitat construction (2016-2017)
approximately 2.5 km of spawning and rearing habitat was completed in the upper
part of Hazeltine creek from the outlet of Polley Lake to the Gavin Lake Road
Bridge. In late 2017, the MPET believed conditions were right to let the fish
back into the creek. There was habitat, flowing water, and food, and the water
quality met aquatic guidelines.
In December 2017, the HRWG began
detailed discussions on the approach to allowing the Rainbow Trout back into
Hazeltine Creek. Discussion included requirements for fish monitoring, water
quality, sediment quality, habitat quality and quantity, Polley Lake access and
egress etc, and the permits and licenses that Mount Polley would have to apply
for and comply with from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource
Operations and Rural Development Water Stewardship Group.
In March 2018, new fish fences were
installed in Hazeltine Creek approximately 2.6 km from the outlet of Polley
Lake to prevent fish from going further downstream than the area where habitat
reconstruction have been completed. On April 26, 2018, the fish fences at the
outlet of Polley Lake to Hazeltine Creek were removed and the Rainbow Trout
once again had access to the first 2.6 km of upper Hazeltine Creek.
Note: the lower part of Hazeltine Creek includes a
steep rock canyon that is a natural barrier preventing Quesnel Lake fish from
entering middle and upper Hazeltine Creek and Polley Lake. However, in the
natural creek system, fish from Polley Lake can be swept down the creek into
Quesnel Lake once all the fish habitat reconstruction is completed and fish
fences are removed.
In addition to ingress into Hazeltine Creek, the fish also needed to be able to return to Polley Lake. This required that a fishway (ladder) be built for the fish to bypass the Polley Lake Weir water control structure. An engineered fishway was installed by Mount Polley maintenance staff at the Polley Lake weir and the flows are monitored to properly maintain water levels for fish passage. The fishway was designed so the flow can be adapted to seasonal changes.
Fish monitoring was intense in 2018. MPET worked
with Minnow Environmental conducting weekly surveys of the fish populations to track
the 2018 spawn and fish activity. The surveys included counting fish at
established monitoring stations and pools, and observing how the fish used the
creek (i.e. seeking shelter under woody debris or behind boulders). Temperature
data and dissolved oxygen levels were also monitored in Hazeltine Creek.
Results of the 2018 Hazeltine Creek fish re-introduction were very impressive. Fish monitors estimated almost 5,000 Rainbow Trout accessed the creek to spawn in spring 2018. The spawn was successful. A spawning survey in July 2018 observed over 18,600 Rainbow Trout in upper Hazeltine Creek, the majority being from the 2018 spawn.
The area around Likely has a long and fascinating
history of placer mining. Placer mining refers to mining materials (mostly
gold) deposited in ancient stream beds that are still largely unconsolidated (i.e.
relatively loose materials).
Some of the earliest gold discoveries in the area were made in 1859, one in the Horsefly River, and one in the Dancing Bill Gulch. The latter became known as the China Pit and then the Bullion Pit, and is located just downstream of Likely on the west side of the Quesnel River. The Bullion Pit is now a local historic site with a public walking trail.
Placer gold was also discovered near the mouth of
Keithley Creek on the Cariboo River about 12 km upstream from Quesnel Forks in
July 1860. Other significant discoveries were subsequently made just 4 km south
of Likely on Cedar Creek, and in Quesnel River itself.
In 1897, the Golden River Canal Co. decided to build a dam across the Quesnel River at the outlet from Quesnel Lake in order to block the river and be able to work the gravels from the bottom of the river. The tent town that developed on the site was known as ‘Quesnel Dam’. In 1920, the dam was dynamited and the remnants of the dam can be seen just north of the Likely Bridge in Likely. After the removal of the dam, the residents decided to rename the town ‘Likely’ after a local prospector, John Likely.
The Bullion Pit ulimately became a very significant gold producer in the area. BC Minfile report number 093A 025 states that “In 1897, the Consolidated Hydraulic Mining Company commenced full scale operations and between 1898 and 1902, the company processed 5,912,700 cubic metres of mixed materials, recovering 1,402,316 grams of gold at a recoverable grade of 0.132 grams per tonne gold… Estimations indicate that a total of 200 million tonnes of material were removed by hydraulic methods and 5.463 million grams (175,644 ounces) of gold were produced.” Indications are that much of this material was discharged directly into the Quesnel River.
The shortage of water in the early 1900s led the operators of the Bullion Pit to construct a number of water control and diversion works on local streams and lakes to gather water for the hydraulic operations at the pit. Photos from the BC archives, including ones featured in the TV program “Gold Trails and Ghost Towns – The Bullion Pit episode”, document weirs and diversion ditches built on Polley Lake and Hazeltine Creek and other creeks in the area.
This Facebook page gives regular updates on the areas in BC that were part of the mine’s early gold mining history.
Many placer mines continue to operate in the area around Likely, including near Quesnel Forks. Quesnel Forks is a restored ghost town located 12 km outside of Likely with a rich mining history and is also worth a visit. It is situated at the point where Cariboo River meets the Quesnel River, and features a beautiful campground and a number of restored and partially restored old buildings.
The remediation effort at Mount Polley is ongoing; however, we are very proud of the major milestones that have been completed to-date.
Repair of lower Edney Creek, re-establishment of link to Quesnel Lake and installation of new fish habitat for spawners from Quesnel Lake, completed in spring 2015, with evidence of successful spawning by Interior Coho, Kokanee and Sockeye Salmon.
Completion of construction of a new Hazeltine Creek channel in May 2015, to control erosion and provide base for remediation of the creek itself and the creek valley.
Ongoing planting of native trees and shrubs in the riparian and upland areas along the creek, now totally more than 600,000 trees and shrubs planted.
Installation of over 6 kilometres of new fish spawning and rearing habitat in upper to middle Hazeltine Creek. Evidence of successful 2018 and 2019 Rainbow trout spawning in upper Hazeltine Creek.
Clean-up and repair of 400 metres of Quesnel Lake shoreline, including placement of new fish spawning gravels.
Re-establishment of wetlands in the Polley Flats area adjacent to the repaired TSF.
Did you know that over the past six
years, over 39 community meetings have been organized and hosted by Mount
Polley management and environmental staff?
Mount Polley is committed to the
environment and to ensuring the community is kept up to date on remediation
Over 24 meetings have been held in
Likely, the community in closest proximity to the Mount Polley mine. Meetings
have also been held in the communities of Quesnel, Horsefly, Big Lake and
These meetings provide an opportunity
for local residents to learn about the activities and progress of the
remediation work and research programs being conducted, and the opportunity to
engage and ask questions.
There is still work being done to
complete the rebuilding of fish habitat in Hazeltine Creek. The rebuilding and
revegetating of the lower part of the creek will be the last part of the
remediation work to be done.
Guest speakers have included
consultants and representatives from provincial Ministries who help educate the
local community about environmental remediation.
Furthermore Mount Polley has
established The Mount Polley Mine Public Liaison Committee (PLC).The PLC is
comprised of representatives from the local communities of Likely, Big Lake,
Horsefly and Williams Lake, local First Nations, government ministries,
consultants and mine staff.
Meetings are held on a quarterly basis,
with the purpose to share information about activities at the mine site with
the PLC members, who are there as representatives of their communities. The
agenda for each meeting includes updates on mine operations, environmental
monitoring, and remediation. There is also a roundtable discussion at each
meeting for all participants to pose questions and discuss any community
Extensive remediation work in the areas affected by the 2014 breach at Mount Polley has been achieved during the past five years.
Over $70 million dollars has been spent on clean-up work, including environmental impact and risk assessment studies, and remediation and monitoring of areas impacted by the spill.
Throughout 2019, the environmental department collected 1,115 water and soil samples. 336 surface water, 234 lake samples, 104 contact water, 77 groundwater, 181 seep, and 153 soil/other samples.
The construction on Hazeltine Creek concluded at the beginning of October and will re-commence at Lower Hazeltine in the Spring of 2020. The flow of Hazeltine Creek was monitored monthly.
There are 3 on-site environmental technicians to do the water sampling, environmental monitoring, inspections including reporting, database, spreadsheet data entry, communication, and coordinating meetings/tours.
Even though environmental monitoring slows down in the winter months, the environmental staff remain busy in the office with reporting, data entry, database management, scheduling, meetings, shoveling snow and general cleaning duties.
We continue to work hard to exemplify the highest site remediation standards and look forward to updating you as our work continues.
Mout Polley continues to restore the environment during its current care and maintenance phase.
With 14 staff members working at the Mount Polley site, as well as several contractors, the remediation team at Mount Polley continues to work diligently to restore habitats, ecosystem and the environment at Mount Polley and affected sites.
The Mount Polley team includes environmental staff ensuring environmental recovery. DWB Consulting Services Ltd. is also on site to provide quality control and assurance.
Some monitoring activities taking place during Mount Polley’s continued remediation include water sampling, water treatment plant sampling, plankton sampling, fish population monitoring, Hazeltine Creek monitoring and fish surveys.
Our efforts have proved successful to-date! Several sockeye salmon were observed in Edney Creek. Furthermore, Rainbow Trout, Coho Salmon, Lon Nose Dace and Burbot have also been identified.
Katie: “My name is Katie McMahen. I was born and raised here in Williams Lake and I was a member of the environmental team here at Mount Polley for a number of years. Although it was a really devastating event, as scientists we want to learn what we can out of this work that’s going on and so we’re studying methods for restoring functioning forest ecosystems, methods for rehabilitating the soil, and trying to improve best practices, really. Since day one, we’ve been doing a ton of environmental monitoring and really prioritizing fixing up the creek.
“So I love the forest, and I love working and rehabilitating the forest, so some of the coolest work we’ve been doing is not just the replanting of trees, but trying to trying to create the right conditions for those trees to thrive. So, managing the tailings, doing some techniques to really make nice little sites for the trees to grow and so that they had the proper soil conditions.”
Gabriel: “My name is Gabriel Holmes, and I grew up in Likely, British Columbia, and I’m an environmental technician here, I’ve worked here since 2011. I’m really proud of reintroducing the fish into the creeks – there’s a whole bunch of things I could go on and on – but reintroducing fish into Hazeltine Creek was a real milestone, the success of the spawning last year of the rainbow trout and Hazeltine Creek, a real milestone. The vegetative communities that are developing in our terrestrial landscapes in riparian areas and then of course this year, seeing a number of sockeye salmon in Edney Creek. I’m really proud to see that occur because that’s one of our end goals that we were trying to accomplish and to see them utilizing the system today, it’s fantastic.”
Katie: “I’m super proud of the work that we’ve done here. One of the biggest challenges has just been the scale of the work that we’ve had to do, and so considering it’s only five years now since the breach, just the sheer amount of work that’s been done in those five years is amazing. When I look back it feels like way longer because I can’t believe how much we’ve done.
“We’ve really set a high precedent for what needs to happen following an incident like this and that the type of work that can be done and should be done to clean up sites. There’s a lot of information that needs to get out there about what what’s the actual environmental conditions and the fact that we have thriving rainbow trout in the creek and tons of wildlife and animals using the habitat that we’ve created. It’s going to take some years for everything to grow, but these ecosystems are well on their way to recovery.”
The Mount Polley remediation efforts have been underway for years. These efforts have benefited tremendously from the hard work of Mount Polley staff, Mount Polley’s First Nations partners, and local contractors and consultants from nearby Williams Lake. We think that its especially important to highlight the work of First Nations partners as the complementarity of environmental stewardship and responsible resource development is one that we are working to get right. We seek to accomplish this in partnership with all who have a stake in the natural wonder of where we live and work.
Mount Polley has remediation partnerships with the T’exelcemc Nation, the Xat’sull First Nation, along with the Secwepemc Nation. First Nations partners have advised and been integral to the remediation of Hazeltine Creek and other affected areas near the Mount Polley site.
Seed gathering and revegetation
Revegetation has been an important part of remediation. For example, members of the Xat’sull First Nation collected willows cuttings for subsequent planting as stakes. As a result, this work enchanced and strengthened the shoreline of Hazeltine Creek. These efforts are part of the 600,000 native shrubs and trees that have been planted. This planting was done in riparian and uplands areas near and at the affected sites. It was important to plant native species to the area. Seeds from vegetative species local to the affected area were incubated and grown in nurseries. Subsequently, these were planted when grown. The practice of seed gathering and spreading has been done on an annual basis. Along with nursery efforts, Mount Polley’s work has been extensive. The remediation project is working to restore the natural ecosystem and native vegetative species. These species include the Red Osier Dogwood and Douglas fir are now thriving.
Restoration of the vegetative species at the creek shorelines has been important for building fish spawning habitats. Thousands of rainbow trout have spawned in Hazeltine Creek. These trout now make up part of the natural habitat in Polley lake. The fish from Quesnel lake and Polley lake are safe to eat.
Mount Polley tailing spill to Mount Polley recovery
As a result, we’ve turned the corner since the Mount Polley tailings spill in 2014. Indeed, the Mount Polley remediation efforts have allowed the site to turn the corner into recovery. In a few short years, with a significant investment of over $70 million, Mount Polley is making things right and is developing new methods and refining best practices along with First Nations partners. Mount Polley is doing this to show that while Canada’s resource development sector gets it right most of the time, when it doesn’t, it makes it right.
A lot has been written about the Mount Polley spill of 2014, though not so much about the remediation efforts which have been quietly underway for years to great effect. Mount Polley recovery and remediation continues. So far, over $70 million has been invested to make things right at the site and the affected areas. Let’s put Mount Polley into perspective. Local habitats are being restored. Fish spawning habitats have helped repopulate rainbow trout populations in Quesnel lake and Hazeltine Creek. The fish are biting are Polley lake!
Additionally, the project has been one that has followed scientific best practices. The Mount Polley remediation effort has restored vegegative coverage in the affected areas and is seeing local wildlife thrive at the site. The project has been carried out in coordination of Mount Polley Remediation staff along with First Nations partners.
Above all, responsible resource development means setting things right in the rare instances they go wrong. We’re proud of the work that has been done and we’re showing the world that Canada leads in taking responsibility and in developing remediation practices. Truly, Mount Polley recovery and remediation means no less than just that.
Indeed, Canada has a rich traditional of resource development and environmental stewardship. We hope to maintain that legacy and the work accomplished at Mount Polley reflects commitment to that ideal.
We’d like to highlight an article that adds much needed perspective. Dr. Lyn Anglin has written about the remediation efforts at Mount Polley. Dr. Anglin was President and CEO of Geoscience BC. She was the Chief Science Officer and VP Environmental Affairs at Imperial Metals until she retired in 2018. Dr. Anglin was also on the Advisory Council at Resource Works.