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Ecology Takes Action to Stem Buckhorn Mine Water Pollution

July 22, 2016
 
Due to the extensive violations of the Buckhorn gold mine’s Clean Water Act permit, the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) issued an Administrative Order (AO) to Kinross Gold Corporation/Crown Resources Corporation (Crown/Kinross) on July 19, 2016. The AO requires an action plan to capture and treat contaminants emanating from the Buckhorn Mine. In addition, Crown/Kinross is required to document the effectiveness of the various mitigation efforts it has undertaken since the July 2013 settlement agreement of the $395,000 penalty for permit violations, and to report actual environmental improvements. Crown/Kinross is required to model the contaminant transport and develop a plan for adaptive management, to bring the mine into compliance with the permit and to maintain a capture zone for mine contaminants.
 
The AO contained 42 pages of permit violations that the Buckhorn Mine has reported in their monthly discharge monitoring reports during the past year, indicating that mine contaminants continue to leak from the mine into the surrounding ground and surface water.
 
“OHA applauds Ecology’s effort to address the water pollution problems at the Buckhorn Mine,” states David Kliegman, Executive Director of the Okanogan Highlands Alliance. “The mine must realistically identify the sources of the water quality problems and implement corrective actions.”
 
The mine is required to capture and treat mine-contaminated water. The mine has a permit to discharge water from the treatment facility, and the treated water is relatively clean. The increasing level of mine contaminants outside the mine boundary is coming from unpermitted sources. Crown/Kinross has not established control of mine related contaminants, and the Buckhorn Mine continues to discharge contaminants in locations where no discharge is authorized, degrading surface and groundwater and even exceeding water quality standards.
 
“The Buckhorn Mine water quality monitoring data shows that contaminants have been continuously escaping capture since shortly after the mine began operating,” continues the OHA spokesman. “The actions taken by the mining company have not been effective at reducing the problem.
 
It is expected that the mine will operate through 2016. 90 days before closure, Crown/Kinross is required to submit a closure plan; 30 days before that, public scoping is to take place. This four-month process has not yet been initiated. The National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit requires that the water quality in streams and groundwater must be as clean after mining as it was before mining. Various strategies have been employed to address the issues of pollution but so far, these efforts have had little or no effect. OHA is concerned that unless effective remedial action is taken soon, long-term protection of water resources may be jeopardized for current and future generations.