Reflections on World Water Day and efforts to protect NL waters from industrial mine waste

March 22nd is UN-designated World Water Day, an occasion to mark the need to protect and conserve freshwater resources for the health of all communities around the world.

One of the most alarming developments in Canadian freshwater management in recent years is the introduction of a loophole in the federal Fisheries Act (Schedule 2 of the act’s Metal Mining Effluent Regulation), which allows mining companies to dump toxic mine waste into natural water bodies. The Fisheries Act prohibits the release of “deleterious substances” into fish-bearing waters and the alteration or destruction of fish habitat. But once a pond or lake is listed under Schedule 2, it becomes re-classed as a “tailings impoundment area”, and Fisheries Act protection no longer applies.

Newfoundland’s Duck Pond Mine (30 km south a Buchans) was the precedent setting first mine in Canada to be granted legal permission (under the above-noted Schedule 2) to dump its mine tailings into two ponds.  The mine began production in 2007 and is anticipated to have a 7.5 year mine life. Following approval of this development a number of other proposals to use freshwater bodies as dumping sites emerged (see http://www.miningwatch.ca/en/MMER_coalition_formed).

Amongst the list of natural water bodies under threat of conversion into a toxic waste site is Sandy Pond, Newfoundland, the proposed “tailings impoundment area” for Vale’s nickel processing plant to be located in Long Harbour, Placentia Bay.

In response to this proposal a group of concerned citizens has come together under the banner of the Sandy Pond Alliance to Protect Canadian Waters to fight for the protection of this pond, as well as all freshwater bodies put under threat by Schedule 2 of the Metal Mining Effluent Regulation. In March 2010 the group launched a legal challenge to declare Schedule 2 in violation of the Fisheries Act, as it contradicts the main purpose of the Fisheries Act, which is the conservation of fish and aquatic ecosystems.

Find out more about the Sandy Pond issue:
Sandy Pond Alliance to Protect Canadian Waters
Of Lakes and Mines: A Sandy Pond Chronicle

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