Working Together to Protect the Elk Valley Watershed

Marcia Smith, senior vice-president, sustainability and external affairs at Teck, responds to the government management plan

by Marcia Smith
A yellow boat with fishermen floats down a deep blue river against a stunning backdrop of trees and mountains

Effects on the Elk River are among the recent concerns regarding the effects of mining in the area. — Steve Short photo

At Teck, we take our role in maintaining both the environmental and economic health of the regions where we operate very seriously. That is why we were pleased with the B.C. Government’s recent decision to issue an Area Based Management Plan Order that will help achieve both of these objectives.

The Order provides a regulatory basis to manage effects of mining on water quality in the Elk Valley, and establishes a regulatory context for permitting of future mining activity. The new Elk Valley Water Quality Plan that will be developed under the order will address selenium – a naturally-occurring element in the rock – and other substances resulting from mining activities that can enter the watershed; associated economic and social costs and benefits; and establish the concentration targets and time-frames required to stabilize and reduce levels of these substances.

As the operator of five steelmaking coal mines in the Elk Valley which directly employ over 4,000 people, we look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with First Nations, communities, and other stakeholders to develop this Plan. By working together we can achieve our shared goal of protecting both the watershed and the economic health of the region.

While the B.C. Government announcement lays out a new process, the fact is Teck has been at the forefront of developing and implementing solutions to this critical issue. While our research indicates selenium at current levels is not a human health issue and is below levels that would affect populations of fish and other sensitive animals or plants, we recognize the need to act quickly to stabilize and reverse the selenium trend. Already we have constructed water diversions at several of our operations to keep clean water clean, and construction is underway now on our first water treatment plant at our Line Creek Operations.

And just this past February we submitted a Valley-wide Selenium Management Action  Plan which outlines significant measures to protect aquatic health while supporting sustainable mining activities in the Elk Valley. This includes investments by Teck over the next five years of up to $600 million on the installation of additional water diversion and treatment facilities, investments in research and development to improve selenium management, and ongoing aquatic monitoring. That plan will help serve as the starting point as we work with stakeholders to finalize the new Elk Valley Water Quality Plan.

At Teck, we are committed to responsible resource development. Our sustainability practices have been ranked in the top two per cent of mining companies worldwide and we were recently named the most sustainable company in Canada in the Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations rankings.

But more importantly, our employees live and raise their families in the Elk Valley. Like us, they care about finding solutions to water quality challenges that protect the health of both the watershed and the economy of the region. The framework established by the Province will enable us all to work together to identify and implement solutions, for the benefit of current and future generations.

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