Each spring the company is required to report the results of monitoring activity. Once again the mining company has reported that “no action is required,” basically because it continues to ask the wrong questions.
Lack of action on the part of the Department of Ecology has allowed Kinross to continue operating under outdated management plans, specifically the Adaptive Management Plan (AMP) and the Hydrologic Monitoring Plan (HMP). Two years ago, the current operating permit required updated plans that considered the water quality changes that occurred during the window of the first discharge permit. The AMP submitted by Crown Resources/Kinross Gold was basically the same as the one that has been in force from the beginning of operations, with no substantial reflection on its adequacy to address the current water quality issues. Ecology pointed this out, but has not required the follow-through that the permit requires. The company responded that what it submitted was adequate and that they would take no additional action.
The mine’s 2014 NPDES permit required the company to submit an updated Adaptive Management Plan to the Department of Ecology (Ecology) for the agency’s approval. The plan submitted by the company in 2014 was rejected by Ecology as insufficient. The agency asked for a revision and resubmittal of an adequate update, and nearly two years later, the company has failed to meet this requirement. The failure of Ecology to enforce the NPDES permit allows Crown to report “no action is required,” despite the spread of contaminants into the environment in violation of the discharge permit. Thus, once again, the Buckhorn Mine stakeholders will be going into another annual meeting at the mine without a functional evaluation tool. Action is needed. Ecology has a responsibility to follow through and order the actions required by the permits it issues.
The problem with the current plans (both the rejected 2014 plan and the previous 2007 document) is that they thwart the adaptive process by failing to ask probative questions capable of rendering information about the effectiveness of the mine’s management. An example of this can be seen in the Adaptive Management Plan’s inquiry into the functioning of the groundwater capture zone.
The capture zone is the area under the earth’s surface where groundwater must be removed to prevent contaminants from traveling, via groundwater pathways, outside of the mine. It is essential that the capture zone function property to prevent the spread of contamination. It is well established from the mine’s own monitoring data that contaminants have traveled outside of the capture zone. However, the Adaptive Management Plan does not ask the question of whether water quality monitoring data are pointing to failure of the capture zone. Instead, the plan relies on water level data to infer that the capture zone is working. This is akin to asking if you have enough gas in your tank to travel ten miles and determining that, because the car started, there must be enough gas, rather than simply looking at the gas gauge. The same is true for the functioning of the capture zone: if you want to know if the groundwater capture zone has been effective at stopping the spread of contaminants in groundwater, instead of relying solely on groundwater level data, look at the readily available water quality data for groundwater coming from the mine.
The company has failed to produce an approvable Adaptive Management Plan, one containing questions that would result in an effective analysis of the operation and impacts of the mine. As a result, the company, the agencies, and OHA will gather to discuss the last year’s mine management, working from an outdated, inadequate Adaptive Management Plan.
Looking North over the waste rock pile, at the water treatment plant, maintenance shop and administration building. Waste rock has recently been placed
on a liner because it was leaching contaminants. However, construction fill under the buildings continues to leach pollutants into ground and surface water.
Kinross Plans Unapprovable: Ecology Rejects Crown's Revised AMP
The new (March 1, 2014) NPDES permit limits are derived from technological ability and performance, and based on background water quality. Among other things, the permit clarifies that the capture zone is the farthest extent that contaminants are allowed to travel. That being the case, water quality monitoring outside the capture zone also serves as compliance points. The mine was required to update plans based on: the new permit, the effectiveness of current monitoring procedures, and the last five years of water quality data. The Adaptive Management Plan (AMP) was required by the permit to be approvable.
On March 16, 2015, Ecology finally put into writing comments regarding Crown Resources’ submittal of their proposed revisions to the Buckhorn Mine Adaptive Management Plan (AMP Appendix C, Water Quality Revision). The revision was a requirement of the 2014 NPDES permit and was a required by July 1, 2014 to be approvable and to include the effectiveness of current monitoring procedures and the last five years of water quality monitoring. Ecology’s letter makes it clear that the July 1, 2014 revision was not approvable, and requires Crown Resources to address a list of issues and submit a revised plan for review and approval by April 6th.
OHA had submitted extensive research-based comments (see Buckhorn Bulletin Fall 2014) to Ecology on Crown’s July 1st AMP submittal. Ecology tried to facilitate a collaboration between OHA and Crown, but the company chose to decline the offer. It is our understanding that Ecology informed Crown verbally shortly after submitting their July 1, 2014 revision that it would not be approved as is.
The Adaptive Management Plan for Water Quality is an important tool to ensure that the Buckhorn Mine protects water quality. The Ecology letter directs Crown to address the comments from all aspects of the plan.
Ecology has asked Crown to address known issues related to mine water containment. These issues include problems with creating and maintaining an effective capture zone, and problems related to the infiltration of seepage from construction fill and other mined materials located on or close to the ground surface. Ecology explains that one of the major objectives of the AMP is to bring this facility into compliance and that implementation of the AMP for water quality is to prevent and/or mitigate failure of the capture zone. The submitted revision of the AMP only addresses operational conditions, but should address the post-operational monitoring period as well.
Ecology stresses that the definition of groundwater is based on the WAC 173-200, which does not distinguish between groundwater as bedrock and shallow groundwater, as Crown does. Ecology expects trends to be compared to pre-mining baseline conditions. The reason for carrying out the AMP for water quality is to avert failure of capture zone and/or mitigate its deficiencies. The plan, do, check, and act strategy of the AMP should evaluate and implement actions for effective dewatering, so that water contaminated by the mine is captured and treated.