On February 27, 2014 the WA Department of Ecology approved the renewal of the long overdue permit for the Buckhorn Mine to discharge treated mine water, known as the NPDES (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System) permit. A good faith effort towards the issuance of this permit was one of the conditions for the settlement of the $395,000 penalty issued in July 2012 to Crown Resources/Kinross for permit violations.
The new permit requires that discharges of treated mine water not exceed the contaminant levels found in surface and ground water before mining began. The mining company must capture and treat all water that is contaminated by the underground mine workings and surface facilities. In addition, the permit designates the capture zone as the farthest distance from the mine that contaminants are permitted to travel.
This new permit is a significant improvement over the old permit. It will take a concerted effort on the part of Kinross to bring the gold mine into compliance with the new permit, but OHA has no doubt that it can be accomplished with adequate resource commitment and cooperation.
The new permit provides interim standards that extend the more lenient standards of the old permit – which are similar to water quality standards – until the end of 2014. After that point, the new background water quality levels must be achieved. OHA has called on Crown Resources/Kinross to address the water pollution problems at the Buckhorn Mine, by initiating a comprehensive appraisal of the water quality problems and implementing corrective actions.
The new permit includes provisions requiring updates to many of the mine’s water quality related plans, including what actions are needed if monitoring shows problems. The new permit slightly expands the farthest extent that contaminants are allowed to migrate east of the mine but it also establishes specific “points of compliance” that must maintain background water quality levels, outside the capture zone.
This permit establishes clear expectations that mine pollution will be cleaned up and that continued unpermitted discharges will not be tolerated. Crown/Kinross has the resources to meet these expectations, to reduce and then eliminate the pollutants escaping the mine’s capture zone.
The near-surface expression of a fault (shown in bold brown) is within the expanded capture zone, and is now allowed to be contaminated. The fault may carry water outside the capture zone and it may be difficult to control the movement of contaminants within the fault. However, the new permit requires that contaminants be controlled to maintain clean water outside the capture zone.
BACKGROUND: Every five years the NPDES permit, which is required by the Clean Water Act to regulate discharges from industrial facilities, must be renewed. The Buckhorn Mine’s permit expired on November 30, 2012. WA Department of Ecology temporarily extended the permit due to complications stemming from the significant violations that were issued in July 2012, which Crown/Kinross appealed. Violations of the NPDES can bring penalties of up to $10,000 per violation per day.
A draft NPDES permit was presented by Ecology to the public for comment on October 21, 2013. OHA submitted over 200 pages of comments, including a 3D visualization of the capture zone, which is posted online at: youtu.be/SPE5waXRjfU
Although the mine has pumped massive amounts of groundwater from Buckhorn Mountain so they could mine, this has not been sufficient to keep mine contaminants from escaping into the environment. Now with the new permit issued, it should be universally understood that all mine contaminants must be captured and treated before they are discharged, and that no amount of inadvertent discharge from the mine is permitted.