British Columbia’s Copper Mountain Mine
Examine a copper mine in the wilderness of British Columbia that threatens US watershed and communities. Fly reporters from The Narwhal, The Seattle Times, and Oregon Public Radio, along with conservationists and officials from the Coleville Confederated Tribes to the remote Copper Mountain Mine.
Mining in southeastern British Columbia threatens US watersheds and communities. We flew due north out of the deep valleys of the Columbia River near Wenatchee, Washington into the remote backcountry of BC. Amidst the untamed and seemingly undeveloped wilderness lies enormous mining operations. Our overflight focused on the Copper Mountain Mine, which presents egregious problems, none quite as alarming as concerns surrounding the two tailings dams, 566 feet and 540 feet in height, that hold back millions of cubic meters of toxic tailings water. Downstream is the Okanagan region, sensitive fish and wildlife habitat, the cultural homelands of the Syilx or Okanagan First Nation, an enormous agricultural region, and overall an economically and environmentally precious area, that is threatened by this mine and its earthen tailings dam. The possibility of an environmental disaster, like a tailings dam failure, seems all too possible. Expert studies show the probability of a tailings dam failure at Copper Mountain to be as high as one in a hundred.
Copper Mountain Mine's operator is exploring a large expansion that would increase the height of the tailings dams. One would become the second largest dam in the world at 853 feet. The BC government does not require an environmental assessment to be completed for this tailings dam expansion project.
The lack of regulations surrounding these mines is incredibly concerning for the communities and riverine life that exist downstream. Despite concerns and pushback from conservation groups, Tribes, and the public, little has been done to address the threats mines, like Copper Mountain, pose to BC and US communities and watersheds. Our partners, including NGOs and Tribal leaders, along with US governments are seeking stronger regulations and increased oversight of BC mining operations that threaten watersheds, important cultural landscapes, fish populations, and recreation.