Dead trout below Line Creek mine raise bigger questions
Twenty-six dead westslope cutthroat trout were recently found downstream of Teck’s Line Creek mine. While Teck has announced that the fish deaths were because they lowered the water level in Dry Creek, leaving the fish without enough water to survive, Wildsight says the dead fish raise larger questions.
“Last year, we heard about the trout population crashes in the upper Fording River and Harmer Creek, but Teck still hasn’t released their report on why they think those trout populations collapsed so quickly,” said Lars Sander-Green, Mining Lead for Wildsight, “and now we’re hearing about more problems in Dry Creek, in the same upper Fording River watershed.”
In 2019, Teck discovered that 93% of adult fish in the upper Fording River and 96% of juvenile fish in Harmer Creek had disappeared between 2017 and 2019. Both the upper Fording River and Harmer Creek are heavily polluted areas, where levels of selenium, nitrate and other contaminants from the coal mines are very high. A report from Teck on the population collapses was promised last year by the company, but has not yet been made public.
“It’s been a year since these fish population crashes came to light,” said Sander-Green, “but we still don’t have any follow up information from Teck on how the remaining fish are doing or what, if anything, can be done to protect them.”
Wildsight is also raising the alarm about rising pollution levels in Dry Creek itself, which is downstream of the Line Creek Phase II expansion. This expansion was approved in 2013 by the government against the advice of their own scientists over concerns for fish.
“We know that selenium and nitrate levels in Dry Creek are pretty high and rising quickly,” said Sander-Green. “Teck has only been mining near Dry Creek for about five years, so it’s pretty shocking that the creek got so polluted so quickly.”
The special permit that allows Teck to pollute Dry Creek was the subject of criticism from the Province’s Auditor General in her 2016 report on mining, where she said that the “expansion of mining operations creates a risk of further decline of [westslope cutthroat trout].”
“In the long-term, there will be so much selenium in Dry Creek that there probably won’t be any fish left in the creek at all if Teck doesn’t make some fundamental changes,” said Sander-Green. “Water treatment may cover up the problem for a few decades, but in the end, the trout in Dry Creek are probably going to be wiped out.”
Ultimately, according to Wildsight, the problem comes down to a lack of regulation and enforcement from the provincial government.
“Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that Teck has killed a bunch of trout and it probably won’t be the last,” said Sander-Green. “Why isn’t the Province paying closer attention to make sure our fish are safe in the Elk Valley—and when are they going to start thinking about what happens when mining ends?”