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Life returns to abandoned mine

The site of the abandoned Mount Washington Copper Mine is still not a pretty sight, but bugs, fish and other signs of renewal can be seen these days.  - Photo submitted
The site of the abandoned Mount Washington Copper Mine is still not a pretty sight, but bugs, fish and other signs of renewal can be seen these days. 
— image credit: Photo submitted

The Tsolum River Partnership is seeing bugs and fish returning and other signs of renewal at the abandoned Mount Washington Copper Mine.
The Tsolum River watershed is seeing a remarkable transformation after more than 40 years of pollution from an abandoned copper mine on Mount Washington, the partnership announced recently.
Since 2001, a group of environmental NGOs, government agencies, and forestry and mining companies known as the Tsolum River Partnership have been working to clean up the environmental contamination caused by an open-pit mine that was abandoned in 1967.
Located 25 kilometres northwest of Courtenay at an elevation of 1,500 metres, the mine site had been poisoning the Tsolum River and two of its tributaries for more than 40 years, according to a news release.
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 cleanup by 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 this year.
The Tsolum River was once home to huge runs of Pacific salmon, but years of mining, historical logging and other human activity destroyed vital fish habitat, noted the release.
Copper runoff was the single most detrimental legacy, but the protective lining placed on the mine has helped significantly improve water quality in the Tsolum River, according to Jack Minard, executive director for the Tsolum River Restoration Society (TRRS).
He said copper contamination from the mine site has decreased by 77 per cent, and the water quality goals set for the river have been met for the first time in 2010.
“The Tsolum River Partnership is a great example of how much we can achieve when we all work together to protect B.C.’s vital waterways,” Environment Minister Murray Coell said.
“The province was pleased to commit $4.5 million to help restore the health and productivity of the river so future generations can enjoy this beautiful area. I’d like to thank and congratulate all those who helped make this a reality.”
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 been once again returned to the Tsolum River, leading the way for the return of larger populations of salmon and trout.
“We expect the return of pink and coho salmon to the Tsolum River in concert with the East Coast of Vancouver Island,” said Minard. “Instead of fish avoiding the Tsolum River because of copper toxicity, we have now cleaned the water to the point that fish will again return to the Tsolum.”
Early results are encouraging.
In 2009, 40,000 pink salmon returned to the Tsolum River, while cutthroat trout populations also improved. 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, according to the release.
To continue the rehabilitation of the Tsolum River area, Minard said the partnership has committed to repeat the ongoing monitoring in 2011 and to develop a long-term monitoring strategy for the mine site.
The Tsolum River Partnership includes the Tsolum River Restoration Society, TimberWest Forest Corp., Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the provincial Ministry of Environment, the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources Operations, the Pacific Salmon Foundation, the Mining Association of British Columbia, Natural Resources Canada, NVI Mines and Environment Canada.

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