CBC News has learned that 16 Canadian lakes are slated to be officially but quietly "reclassified" as toxic dump sites for mines. The lakes include prime wilderness fishing lakes from B.C. to Newfoundland.Mining Watch Canada has put out an urgent action on this:
Environmentalists say the process amounts to a "hidden subsidy" to mining companies, allowing them to get around laws against the destruction of fish habitat.Under the Fisheries Act, it's illegal to put harmful substances into fish-bearing waters. But, under a little-known subsection known as Schedule Two of the mining effluent regulations, federal bureaucrats can redefine lakes as "tailings impoundment areas."
Since 2005, Environment Canada has announced that 14 lakes and streams are slated to become dump sites for the disposal of environmentally toxic mine waste “tailings”. Two lakes have already been destroyed and eight more natural water bodies are being decided on this year!
The government needs to hear from Canadians that the use of natural, fish-bearing waters as mine dumps is not acceptable!
Please let Loyola Hearn (Fisheries and Oceans Minister), John Baird (Environment Minister) and your local MP know about your concerns for the future of Canada’s lakes and streams. Write, e-mail, or fax them and tell them that NO more Canadian lakes and streams should be used for tailing dumps. Please also send a copy of your message to MiningWatch. Contact information and a sample letter can be found below:
Honorable Loyola Hearn
Minister of Fisheries and Oceans
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6
The Honourable John Baird
Minister of the Environment
Les Terrasses de la Chaudière
10 Wellington Street, 28th Floor
Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0H3
Because lakes and rivers are fish habitat they are protected by the Fisheries Act. The Fisheries Act is Canada’s oldest environmental legislation and prohibits the release of “deleterious substances” into fish-bearing waters, and the alteration or destruction of fish habitat. However, in 2002, a “schedule” was added to the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations under the Act. Schedule 2 essentially re-defines any natural water body listed on it as a “Tailings Impoundment Area.” Once a lake or river has been put on Schedule 2, it is no longer considered a natural water body (and no longer protected by the Fisheries Act) and a mining company can use it as a dumping ground for millions of tonnes of tailings and waste rock.
The first two lakes to be approved for destruction, in 2006, were near Buchans, Newfoundland. These lakes used to contain Atlantic salmon and brook trout and were also home to otters. Since then the requests from the international mining industry to use Canadian waters for their toxic waste disposal have increased at an alarming rate.
Under current legislation and policies mining companies are required to compensate for the loss fish habitats that are turned into tailings impoundments. However, even fisheries and oceans experts acknowledge that entire lake eco-systems cannot be compensated for:
“As far as I am aware there has been no successful compensation undertaken for the loss of a fish-bearing lake.”
“...no examples of whole lake restoration and compensation to guide developments forecasts irreparable harm.”
“If DFO approves [whole lake destruction] at that point then it is clearly not based on any technical or science-based arguments” (quotes from S.C. Samis, I.K. Birtwell, and N.Y Khan. 2005.)
The fate of many of these lakes has yet to be decided, however there is currently a strong bias within the government towards allowing the use of water bodies to receive mine wastes. Environment Canada staff have told MiningWatch that this is not only an appropriate action, but in some cases it is the “best solution” for dealing with mine wastes. It is now critical that Canadians weigh in to stop the destruction of more of our precious water resources.