Fighting for Fish Lake: Project Enviro. Assessment Questioned

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Report Slams Taseko Mines' Environmental
Assessment as Inadequate
by Bill Layton
A report written by an American consulting company specializing in hydrology and groundwater around mines has criticized Taseko Mines' own Environmental Impact Assessment of its Prosperity Mine proposal for the south Chilcotin.
The report, commissioned by the Tsilhqot'in National Government (TNG), states clearly that Taseko Mines has not provided enough analysis or underlying data to back up its plans to use a large, productive lake as a tailings pond. The TNG commissioned the report to address what it saw as failings in Taseko's submission to the Federal Panel.
Taseko Mines is a medium-sized metals producer based in Vancouver which has been attempting to develop an ore body into an open pit mine. Their plan includes draining Fish Lake and turning it into a tailings pond.  The proposed mine is located about 200 kilometers southwest of Williams Lake, and about 20 kilometers from the First Nations community of Xeni Gwet'in (pronounced Hunee Gateen) in the Nemiah Valley.

Marilyn Baptiste is Chief of the Xeni Gwet'in community.  She says that her community views the whole mine proposal as unacceptable because it can destroy fish, wildlife and water for future generations.
Roger William, who spent 17 years as chief of the Xeni Gwet'in is now Lands and Stewardship Director for the TNG. In a recent interview, Mr. William said he felt validated by Stratus' report because the Tsilhqot'in people have always been concerned that contaminated groundwater would reach other lakes and rivers, possibly wiping out fish populations that include salmon, steelhead and trout.

He also said that Taseko Mines always told them that Fish Lake is "in its own valley and nothing will leak from the tailings pond".  He believes that expert consultants paid by Taseko Minesto to collect environmental data by Taseko are in a conflict of interest and the results are not without bias.

Waste rock from hard rock mines often produces toxic acids, and protecting the environment from these toxins is one of the primary concerns of the Federal Environmental Assessment Panel.
Tailings must be held in a leak-proof pond to prevent these leachates, known as Acid Mine Drainage, from escaping into surface streams and groundwater. Escapes can have far reaching impacts on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and can decimate fish populations. They can also lead to fish being unfit for human consumption and allow toxic metals to find their way up the food chain.
Tailings ponds work by keeping tailings at least partially submerged in water to prevent acid forming on rock surfaces. A prospective mine with acid-generating tailings must be able to show two things, first that they have enough water to submerge the tailings, and second that they will not leak. Since rock lasts a very long time, the tailings pond must also be maintained for a very long time as well, even hundreds of years.

The report was commissioned by the TNG to provide an independent look at Taseko Mines' submission to the Federal Panel. It was written by Stratus Consulting Inc. of Boulder, Colorado, and led by three prominent scientists whose specialize in and the study of mine waste and water contamination. The report focused on whether the tailings pond has an adequate and consistent supply of water, and whether toxic chemicals could escape to the environment.

According to Stratus' report, since Taseko's Environmental Assessment does not explain its modeling methods, no one knows how they estimated the probability of water surpluses and deficits. The data behind the estimations imply that Taseko has vastly underestimated uncertainties in the water balance, meaning that the mining company could not possibly be prepared for the effects of extreme weather events or climate change.

Stratus states that Taseko gathered streamflow data "haphazardly and inconsistently", and that it even acknowledged that it was over-estimating streamflows in its model. 

Stratus' scientists wondered if, given such significant data errors here, are there similar errors elsewhere in the water budget model? Taseko says that data collected prior to 2000 are unreliable, but if this is true then is the majority of the data in the model also invalid and unreliable?
Xeni Gwet'in Chief Baptiste said that it was "a disgrace and an embarrassment [for Taseko Mines] to have based their predictions on such poor data". She feels it is up to the Xeni Gwet'in and Tsilhqot'in people to protect the land and resources from this mine.
Bill Layton is a 48 year old forester-cum-dissident, involved with the Tshilhqot'in National Government in publicizing opposition to Taseko Mines' proposed Prosperity Mine in the southwest Chilcotin.


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