From a Mined Pit to a Thriving Trout Habitat

June 30, 2011

Rainbow trout and bull trout are now thriving in the Sphinx Creek watershed, thanks to the successful reclamation effort of one of our mined pits at Cardinal River Operations (CRO).

These two species of trout are currently listed as Species of Special Concern by Alberta’s Endangered Species Conservation Committee, so we’re especially proud to be providing a habitat for their growth.

Cardinal River Operations is one of Teck’s six steelmaking coal operations in Western Canada. One of the pits in the mine, Luscar Pit, was mined from 1992 to 1999 and is located in the Sphinx Creek drainage. Prior to development, Sphinx Creek was deviated around the pit through a clean water diversion. When mining development was completed, we focused on re-establishing a fisheries habitat that would be at least as productive as before the area was mined.

The Sphinx Lake end pit lake system was constructed by replacing and reshaping the overburden removed during mining to backfill some of the pit, and then filling the remaining pit with water. Key reclamation steps included constructing an inlet and outlet channel for the lake, as well as habitat suitable for aquatic plants and other biodiversity. Sphinx Creek has since been redirected into the newly constructed channel and lake, serving as a spawning and rearing stream for the lake. Five years of post-reclamation aquatic, fisheries habitat and population monitoring indicates that Sphinx Lake meets all of the hydrological, physical and chemical criteria for an ecologically healthy lake.

Marc Symbaluk, Superintendent of Environment at CRO, attributes the success of the lake system to foresight: creating a sound development and reclamation plan from the outset. “Early planning allowed the pit to be mined in a way that protected the integrity of the Sphinx Creek stream flow by establishing a temporary clean water diversion,” said Marc. “With its reconstructed inlet and outlet channels providing connectivity to Sphinx Creek, Sphinx Lake should contribute to a healthy watershed and sustained fisheries and aquatic habitat.”

Today the Sphinx Creek watershed provides habitat for a substantial population of both resident and migratory native rainbow trout. Due to the enhanced habitat conditions, these trout have demonstrated high growth rates, compared to the pre-mine cold-water ecosystem. In 2007 Sphinx Lake was awarded the Major Reclamation Award by the Alberta Chamber of Resources.

Enhancing fisheries habitat and contributing to watershed integrity are highly valued at Teck. We’ll continue to monitor Sphinx Lake and support its function as a fisheries habitat for rainbow trout and bull trout.

This case study was originally published in our 2010 Sustainability Report.

First Published on June 30, 2011