Is Canada’s massive mine waste spill a sign of things to come?

This blog appeared on High Country News’ Goat blog on Aug. 11, 2014

From behind a screen of trees, it comes as a dull roar: A gray churn of water and debris that overtops roads, snaps trunks, carves chunks of earth from banks as if they were butter. It looks like a flash flood, something you’d see coursing from the mouth of a redrock wash in Utah, a desert arroyo in New Mexico. But this is central British Columbia, with plenty of vegetation and porous soil to catch and slow rain.

Rise into the air in a helicopter, though, and the source creeps into view: A massive earthen-walled pond full of waste from the adjacent Mount Polley copper and gold strip mine, operated by Imperial Metals. The containment dam is rent by a steep new canyon where, sometime in the dark morning hours of August 4, a viscous slurry of pulverized rock vomited free across the dark conifer forest into adjacent Polley Lake and roared down Hazeltine Creek, widening it from 4 feet to 150 in places, before settling in Quesnal Lake. More…