VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - Feb. 11, 2011) - The Tsolum River watershed on Vancouver Island is seeing a remarkable transformation after more than 40 years of pollution from an abandoned copper mine on Mt. Washington. Since 2001, a group of environmental NGO's, 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 1500 meters, the mine site had been poisoning the Tsolum River and two of its tributaries for more than 40 years.
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 clean up by literally 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 in 2011.
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. 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. He said copper contamination from the mine site has decreased by 77%, 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," said Environment Minister Murray Coell. "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."
The early results are encouraging. In 2009, 40,000 pink salmon returned to the Tsolum River while cutthroat trout populations also improved; and 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. In order 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, British Columbia Ministry of Environment, British Columbia Ministry of Natural Resources Operations, Pacific Salmon Foundation, Mining Association of British Columbia, Natural Resources Canada, NVI Mines, and Environment Canada.
For more information and to keep up-to-date with what is happening in the Tsolum River watershed please visit www.tsolumriver.org.