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Water Quality in the Elk Valley

Teck operates five steelmaking coal mines in the Elk Valley of British Columbia which employ over 4,000 people. We raise our families in the valley, fish and swim in the river and care deeply about ensuring the environment is protected. That’s why we’re taking action to ensure that water quality is protected in the valley now and for generations to come.

Water Quality in the Elk Valley

  1. The mining process generates large quantities of leftover rock that contains naturally-occurring substances such as selenium, an element that is essential for human and animal health in small amounts.
  2. Water from both precipitation and runoff flows through these rock piles and carries selenium and other substances, such as nitrate, into the local watershed.
  3. If present in high enough concentrations in the watershed, those substances can adversely affect aquatic health.

Our goal is to implement solutions to stabilize and reverse the increasing trend of selenium and other substances to ensure the ongoing health of the watershed, while at the same time allowing for continued sustainable mining in the region.

Existing studies and monitoring indicate that selenium concentrations and other indicators of water quality within the watershed are at levels that have not affected populations of fish and other sensitive aquatic animals. Regardless of current conditions, action is necessary to ensure that concentrations do not increase to levels that could affect sensitive aquatic populations.

As part of development of the Plan, existing levels of selenium, cadmium, nitrate, sulphate and other constituents were evaluated in the Elk River, Fording River, Lake Koocanusa and tributaries.

Current baseline conditions were examined in surface water, sediments and in tissues of aquatic life to assess the overall health of the aquatic environment. These conditions provided context for the development of the Plan.

Selenium and nitrate are the two constituents observed to most frequently exceed B.C. water quality guidelines and as such, are a primary focus of the initial implementation of the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan.

Teck conducted a comprehensive evaluation of potential effects on human health and groundwater. This evaluation compared concentrations of selenium and other constituents against conservative health-protective benchmarks for swimming, incidental ingestion, eating fish or drinking groundwater. Results of this analysis concluded that current concentrations of constituents in water, sediment or fish for activities such as drinking, swimming, or consuming locally caught fish do not present unacceptable human health risks.

Drinking water guidelines for selenium and nitrate are exceeded in some parts of the watershed, meaning that local health authorities should be consulted prior to use of surface water as a drinking water supply. It was also noted that groundwater from a small number (5 of 91) of wells exceeded the guideline for selenium. Further monitoring will be conducted of wells that exceed guidelines, as well as those that are within 30% of guideline.

As groundwater is intrinsically linked to surface water quality in parts of the Elk Valley, it is expected that the actions taken through the Plan to reduce and manage surface water levels of selenium and nitrate will also manage groundwater quality over time.

Elk Valley Water Quality Plan

On November 18, 2014, the B.C. Ministry of Environment approved an area based management plan, called the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan (the Plan), developed by Teck to address the management of water quality constituents released by mining activities throughout the Elk River watershed.

Development of the Plan was informed by scientific advice received from a Technical Advisory Committee chaired by the B.C. Ministry of Environment, and including representatives from Teck, Environment Canada, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, State of Montana, Ktunaxa Nation, other provincial ministries, and an independent scientist. Public input was received through three phases of consultation conducted in Elk Valley communities.

The Plan establishes short, medium and long-term water quality targets which are protective of the environment and human health for selenium, nitrate, sulphate and cadmium, as well as a plan to manage calcite formation. The approved Plan is a public policy document that will guide future regulatory decision making regarding water quality and mining in the Elk Valley.

Teck is implementing aquatic monitoring, water quality testing and various water quality management measures in order to achieve the target levels in the Plan. This work is expected to include construction of water diversions and water treatment facilities at a number of our Elk Valley Operations, including:

  • A water treatment facility at Line Creek Operations, which completed commissioning in February 2016
  • A water treatment facility at Fording River Operations, planned for 2019
  • It is anticipated a water treatment facility will be necessary at Elkview Operations following the Fording River facility

Taking Action

As part of the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan, Teck has, and will continue to, take action to protect water quality, including completing commissioning of a water treatment facility at our Line Creek Operations in February 2016 as well as ongoing aquatic monitoring, and extensive research and development.

Steps Teck has taken to-date include:

  • Launching pilot projects to determine the best technologies for water quality treatment
  • Studies and monitoring to improve our understanding of water quality and aquatic health
  • Engaging world class experts to form the Strategic Advisory Panel on Selenium Management to investigate and provide recommendations
  • Constructing water diversions at our operations
  • Construction of a full-scale water treatment facility at our  Line Creek Operations, which was commissioned in February 2016
  • Initiating an extensive multi-year selenium management research and development program
  • Developing the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan through engagement with the B.C. Ministry of Environment, Environment Canada, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, State of Montana, Ktunaxa Nation, other provincial ministries, scientists and local community members.The Plan was approved by the B.C. Government in November 2014 and is currently being implemented.

Additional Resources

Technical Advisory Committee
 
A Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) was formed to provide science-based advice for the development of Teck’s Elk Valley Water Quality Plan. Information on the TAC and input provided into the development of the EVWQP is available at: http://elkvalleytac.com/
 
Environmental Monitoring Committee Public Reports
 
The Environmental Monitoring Committee (EMC) is an independent body established under Environmental Monitoring Act permit 107517 to review monitoring submissions required under the permit. The EMC prepares a public report annually summarizing monitoring activities reviewed by the committee.

Environmental Monitoring Committee 2015 Public report 

Appendix A: Advice Table

Appendix B: EMC Terms of Reference

Research & Development

Research and development (R&D) is a critical part of addressing water quality challenges in the Elk Valley. Teck’s research and development program for the Elk Valley has two main branches. The first is a comprehensive R&D program to determine how we can better design mines and mine structures such as waste dumps to protect water quality. The second examines new and emerging water treatment technologies to find the best methods for protecting water quality. The R&D work is organized around the main areas:

Focus

How can new waste rock dumps be designed to lower the amounts of selenium and other substances being released and how can existing waste rock dumps be assessed and managed to minimize the release of these substances?

Researchers

University of Saskatchewan (1 MSc Student, staff); Montana State University Recent work (2012):

  • Drilling and sampling of legacy waste rock piles undertaken at Line Creek, Elkview, Greenhills and Cardinal River operations
  • Gas and temperature monitoring instruments were installed at various locations
  • Geophysical surveys were conducted at each of the research areas
  • Intensive sampling of the Turncreek waste rock site, constructed at Fording River Operations specifically to allow evaluation of bottom-up dump construction
  • Continued work at research leach pads constructed at Cardinal River and Line Creek operations in 2007

More information

Poster: 

Focus

How effective are natural and designed saturated zones in managing releases of selenium and other substances?

Researchers

University of Saskatchewan (Two MSc. Students)

Recent work

  • Preliminary sampling and instrumentation conducted of two saturated zones at Cardinal River Operations
  • Installed groundwater wells at Line Creek and Cardinal River in 2012 and sampled groundwater at the new wells and existing wells to inform conceptual models
  • Inventoried and compiled available rock and water chemistry data from all Teck coal operations to inform conceptual model development and aid in selection of research sites for 2013

Focus

What advances in source control or selenium treatment/emergent selenium technologies should be implemented at pilot or commercial scale?

Researchers

Various

Recent work

  • All of the research under the R&D program is aimed at identifying mine design approaches or technologies for source control to be implemented at commercial scale. A key question that will be considered by all researchers is how to scale up laboratory results to commercial size

Focus

How can mine developed water bodies (like end of pit lakes) be used to manage releases of substances such as selenium?

Researchers

Teck

Recent work

  • Research ongoing into end of pit lakes to enhance selenium management
  • Process undertaken in 2012 to identify key questions and direction for upcoming research into this focus area

Focus

How are tailings from the mine’s processing plant different with respect to release of substances such as selenium?

Researchers

Teck

Recent work

  • Inventory of tailings deposits to identify potential study sites conducted in 2012
  • Lab scale research on tailings conducted at ART in 2012

Focus

How do reclamation options affect the release of selenium and other substances, and how do they perform in meeting other reclamation objectives?

Researchers

McMaster University (One MSc student)

Recent work

  • Soil moisture and climate stations installed at locations in the Elk Valley and at Cardinal River Operations
  • Vegetation, soil and wildlife assessments conducted

Focus

What is the effectiveness of explosives (nitrates) management on minimizing nitrates in the watershed?

Researchers

Various

Recent work

  • This is at the program planning stage, though nitrates are a key focus in projects being conducted by researchers in other focus areas

Focus

How do water management processes affect the releases of these substances and how can we maximize the effectiveness of water management?

Researchers

McMaster University (Four MSc students and one post-doctoral researcher)

Recent work

  • Identified West Line Creek as focus watershed to address key research questions around water balances for mine affected watersheds
  • Commenced research in 2012 with McMaster University on water balances for mine affected watersheds
  • Conducted snow surveys, with the data being used by researchers in all focus areas
  • Collected groundwater information to inform water balance research
  • Installed surface water balance instrumentation at three elevations at West Line Creek to collect data

More information

Poster: 

Focus

Can we stop calcite from forming or safely control it?

Researchers

Teck

Recent work

  • Substantial research and monitoring into calcite was been conducted previously and that work continued through 2012
  • Further work undertaken in 2012 to further develop the research into this field through 2013

Focus

How do rock drains affect the release of substances such as selenium?

Researchers

University of Saskatchewan (Post-doctoral researcher)

Recent work

  • Commenced evaluation of rock drains at Elkview and Line Creek operations
  • Drilling and sampling of waste dumps at both operations in 2012
  • Instrumentation installed at Elkview waste dump
  • Bench-scale testing conducted at University of Saskatchewan to evaluate rock drain effluent treatment
  • Inventory and classification system established for rock drains

Mine Design

Finding improved methods to manage water quality through mine design and reclamation practices is the focus of a comprehensive R&D program led by Teck. We are working collaboratively with a number of universities in Canada and the United States along with consulting researchers to identify and develop new technologies and techniques to manage water, selenium and other substances. 2012 was the first field season of this multi-year, multi-disciplinary program. We are undertaking projects at all five of our steelmaking coal mines in the Elk Valley and at our Cardinal River Operations in Alberta. Ensuring that the results of this research are integrated into our day-to-day operations is a key focus of the research program.

FAQs

Teck conducted a comprehensive evaluation of potential effects on human health and groundwater. This evaluation compared concentrations of selenium and other constituents against conservative health-protective benchmarks for swimming, incidental ingestion, eating fish or drinking groundwater. Results of this analysis concluded that current concentrations of constituents in water, sediment or fish for activities such as drinking, swimming, or consuming locally caught fish do not present unacceptable human health risks.

Teck has been taking action for several years to address water quality in the Elk Valley. We have constructed three water diversions at our operations to keep clean water clean and have constructed our first full scale water treatment plant at our Line Creek Operations, which began operating in 2016. We are in the process of implementing one of the largest water quality management programs of its kind in the world in order to meet the challenge of protecting the health of the Elk River watershed. The tactics and technologies we will be using can be found in the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan, approved by the B.C. Government in November 2014.

Selenium gets into the watershed when rock that is exposed to the elements – water and air – under goes oxidation. This process naturally releases selenium from the rock which can leach into surrounding soils, surface water and groundwater. Some of this selenium can be carried by rain or melting snow into the watershed. The mining process exposes large volumes of rock to water and air, resulting in the release of selenium that ultimately ends up in the watershed.

Existing studies and monitoring indicate that selenium concentrations and other indicators of water quality within the watershed are at levels that have not affected populations of fish and other sensitive aquatic animals. Regardless of current conditions, action is necessary to ensure that concentrations do not increase to levels that could affect sensitive aquatic populations.

You can send us your comments, suggestions and questions. Further detail regarding consultation during implementation of the Plan will be posted on this site in the future.

These substances are below levels that would affect populations of fish and other sensitive animals and plants in the Fording and Elk rivers, and are not considered a human health concern.

Selenium is a naturally occurring element that is essential and beneficial for all animals, including humans. Selenium’s main purpose in the human body is to help protect our cells from damage and keep our immune system working properly. The average North American gets sufficient selenium in their daily diet. Foods such as tuna and whole wheat flour are high in selenium. However, selenium can be harmful to the reproductive processes of aquatic wildlife when concentrations are too high.

Naturally-occurring materials that can enter the watershed as a result of mining are selenium, cadmium, sulphate and calcite. Nitrate, which results from the blasting process in mining, can also enter the watershed. Management of each of these substances is addressed in the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan.

In accordance with the Plan, we are implementing aquatic monitoring, water quality testing and various water quality management measures in order to achieve our targets. This work is expected to include construction of water diversions and water treatment facilities including the facility that has been built at our Line Creek Operations. Additional water treatment facilities are planned and include one at Fording River Operations and at Elkview Operations.

On November 18, 2014, the B.C. Ministry of Environment approved an area based management plan, called the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan (the Plan), developed by Teck to address the management of water quality constituents released by mining activities throughout the Elk River watershed.

Development of the Plan was informed by scientific advice received from a Technical Advisory Committee chaired by the B.C. Ministry of Environment, and including representatives from Teck, Environment Canada, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, State of Montana, Ktunaxa Nation, other provincial ministries, and an independent scientist. Public input was received through three phases of consultation conducted in Elk Valley communities.

The Plan establishes short, medium and long-term water quality targets which are protective of the environment and human health for selenium, nitrate, sulphate and cadmium, as well as a plan to manage calcite formation. The approved Plan is a public policy document that will guide future regulatory decision making regarding water quality and mining in the Elk Valley.

Teck is implementing aquatic monitoring, water quality testing and various water quality management measures in order to achieve the target levels in the Plan. This work is expected to include construction of water diversions and water treatment facilities at a number of our Elk Valley Operations, including:

  • A water treatment facility at Line Creek Operations; commissioning of the facility is expected in the fall of 2015
  • A water treatment facility at Fording River Operations, planned for 2018
  • It is anticipated a water treatment facility will be necessary at Elkview Operations following the Fording River facility

Cadmium is an element that occurs naturally in rock and is most commonly used in batteries. Increased concentrations may affect aquatic health. Sulphate is a naturally occurring substance containing sulphur and oxygen that can be found in mine runoff water. Nitrate is a salt that is a byproduct of the blasting process at mines. It can have a negative effect on aquatic health in high concentrations. Calcite is a hard, rocky substance that can form on riverbeds, the same mineral that forms in tea kettles or water heaters in homes with hard water. Calcite formation can be accelerated by runoff water from mines. It is not a health concern, but can impact fish habitat.

​Feedback Form - Elk Valley Water Quality

​The formal consultation period for the development the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan has now concluded. Thank you to everyone who provided feedback and attended consultation open houses and meetings. Further detail regarding consultation during implementation of the Plan will be posted on this site in the future. We welcome your questions, feedback and suggestions on an ongoing basis through this form.

Public Consultation

Development of the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan was informed by scientific advice received from a Technical Advisory Committee chaired by the B.C. Ministry of Environment, and including representatives from Teck, Environment Canada, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, State of Montana, Ktunaxa Nation, other provincial ministries, and an independent scientist. More information on the work of the Technical Advisory Committee is available at http://elkvalleytac.com 

Public input into the plan was received through three phases of consultation conducted in Elk Valley communities.

Phase 1 Consultation – October 28 to November 29, 2013

Phase 2 Consultation – April 5 to May 5, 2014

Phase 3 Consultation – June 13 to July 4, 2014

 

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