Canada's mines pose transboundary risks

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In this commentary, we argue that mine assessments in transboundary watersheds, 1) underestimate risk, 2) rely on the promise of mitigations that lack field validation, and 3) do not require incorporation of transparent, independent, and peer-reviewed science. we urge our governments to honor their mutual obligations to protect our shared transboundary waters as codified in the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909.

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... The additive or synergistic amplification of mining activities (Figs. 3 and 4) (150) may put salmonid-bearing watersheds at risk when mine assessment, permitting, and development occur within one jurisdiction but impacts extend far downstream and span multiple jurisdictions. Narrow scoping of the spatial scale of impacts can exclude downstream governments and communities from the processes governing mine assessment, permitting, and regulation (151). Riverine transport of mining pollution and its associated risks can extend far downstream. ...
... For example, water quality criteria can differ across adjacent segments of the same watershed, with associated inconsistencies in the methodologies for calculating, monitoring, and regulating exceedances (183,184). Likewise, the inherent downstream transport of mine effluent complicates effective permitting and oversight of mines because the assessment of risks in one jurisdiction may not adequately account for the consequences of impacts realized in another jurisdiction (151,184). Although downstream jurisdictions may be invited to provide public comments during the assessment process, they are often excluded from formal decision-making and have limited avenues for legal recourse. ...
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Mining provides resources for people but can pose risks to ecosystems that support cultural keystone species. Our synthesis reviews relevant aspects of mining operations, describes the ecology of salmonid-bearing watersheds in northwestern North America, and compiles the impacts of metal and coal extraction on salmonids and their habitat. We conservatively estimate that this region encompasses nearly 4000 past producing mines, with present-day operations ranging from small placer sites to massive open-pit projects that annually mine more than 118 million metric tons of earth. Despite impact assessments that are intended to evaluate risk and inform mitigation, mines continue to harm salmonid-bearing watersheds via pathways such as toxic contaminants, stream channel burial, and flow regime alteration. To better maintain watershed processes that benefit salmonids, we highlight key windows during the mining governance life cycle for science to guide policy by more accurately accounting for stressor complexity, cumulative effects, and future environmental change.
... Although salmon colonization of recently deglaciated streams has been well documented in individual watersheds 8 , predicting future shifts in the distribution of productive salmon habitat remains a challenge, and there are no regional projections for the creation of new salmon habitat in response to retreating glaciers. Forecasting the location of emerging salmon habitat is imperative because, while declining glacier ice can present local opportunities for salmon, it is also creating new prospects for large-scale resource extraction industries such as mining, which have the potential to degrade these salmon habitat frontiers [13][14][15][16] . Understanding the timing and location of emerging salmon habitat frontiers throughout the Pacific Mountain ranges of western North America can inform forward-looking management decision-making and conservation planning. ...
... Understanding future shifts in suitable habitat for Pacific salmon and other species of importance 48 can support forwardlooking management and conservation. For example, the heavily glacierized 'transboundary region' of southeast Alaska/British Columbia/Yukon, which has substantial forecasted gains in salmon habitat, is also concurrently experiencing a modern-day gold rush 16 . Mineral claims have been staked in regions currently covered by ice, and mines have been approved in recently deglacierized areas. ...
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Glacier retreat poses risks and benefits for species of cultural and economic importance. One example is Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.), supporting subsistence harvests, and commercial and recreational fisheries worth billions of dollars annually. Although decreases in summer streamflow and warming freshwater is reducing salmon habitat quality in parts of their range, glacier retreat is creating new streams and lakes that salmon can colonize. However, potential gains in future salmon habitat associated with glacier loss have yet to be quantified across the range of Pacific salmon. Here we project future gains in Pacific salmon freshwater habitat by linking a model of glacier mass change for 315 glaciers, forced by five different Global Climate Models, with a simple model of salmon stream habitat potential throughout the Pacific Mountain ranges of western North America. We project that by the year 2100 glacier retreat will create 6,146 (±1,619) km of new streams accessible for colonization by Pacific salmon, of which 1,930 (±569) km have the potential to be used for spawning and juvenile rearing, representing 0 to 27% gains within the 18 sub-regions we studied. These findings can inform proactive management and conservation of Pacific salmon in this era of rapid climate change.
... 1,3,4 In the Elk Valley of British Columbia (Canada), surface mining of coal has created a transboundary pollution problem. 5 Waste rock weathering and hydrological transport of solutes 6 have increased loading of selenium (Se) 8 times above background to the Elk River and downstream international border water Lake Koocanusa (British Columbia, Canada and Montana, USA). 4 Westslope cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkia lewisi), a species of Special Concern in British Columbia, 7 are showing clinical signs of Se toxicity in the Elk River and tributaries, 8 and population declines up to 93% are occurring in the Upper Fording River. 9 Mountaintop coal mining also impacts air quality. ...
... These findings are of importance to aquatic systems downstream of TSFs and similar features associated with mines and other resource activities. This is especially relevant in ecologically sensitive watersheds that straddle international borders, such as those between British Columbia (Canada) and Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Washington states (USA), where there is considerable concern over the impact of the failure of TSFs, and mining generally, on salmon populations and other critical aquatic species (Sexton et al., 2020;Sergeant et al., 2022). Fig. 4. Sediment cores collected from Quesnel Lake showing natural lake sediment, tailings material and an unconsolidated layer. ...
Failures of mine tailings storage facilities (TSF) can have profound and long-lasting effects on the downstream receiving environment. Virtually all spills to date have been into river systems without large lakes that may buffer downstream impacts. In August 2014, the failure of the Mount Polley copper (Cu)-gold mine TSF in British Columbia, Canada, released ~25 × 10⁶ m³ of water and solids; globally, this is the second largest TSF spill in history. Over 18 × 10⁶ m³ was delivered to Quesnel Lake, which is ~9 km from the TSF and is the third deepest lake in North America, and a crucial habitat for Pacific salmon and trout populations. We determined the sediment-associated Cu concentrations and fluxes in Quesnel River, downstream of the lake, from August 2014 to February 2021 based on the analysis of >400 samples of sediment, mainly collected using a continuous-flow centrifuge. During each winter since the spill, Cu concentrations in the fluvial sediment in the upper reaches of the river (~35 km from the TSF) were elevated relative to regional background concentrations and samples collected before the spill. Maximum Cu concentrations were ~410 mg kg⁻¹ which exceeds Canadian sediment quality guidelines for the protection of aquatic organisms (197 mg kg⁻¹). Monitoring of Quesnel Lake since the spill shows that these annual pulses in the winter are due to resuspension of unconsolidated tailings and sediments at the bottom of Quesnel Lake, during autumnal lake turnover, which become mixed throughout the water column and subsequently flow into Quesnel River. Results show that while large lakes may buffer downstream aquatic systems from contaminated sediment, they may prolong the environmental impact. These findings are crucial in understanding how lake processes may modify the effects of TSF spills on downstream aquatic systems.
... The mining industry has contributed to declines of fish populations (Affandi and Ishak 2019;Cope 2020) with 62 out of 82 (76%) of Canadian mines assessed by ECCC (2017) indicating adverse effects on fish and fish habitat. Downstream risks have been noted across international boundaries, with communities in southeastern Alaska that are dependent on healthy salmon populations calling for stricter regulations, supervision, and enforcement of mining operations in Canada (Murkowski et al. 2019;Sexton et al. 2020). Furthermore, acid mine drainage is caused by mines exposing sulfite waste rock, which oxidizes with water and oxygen, forming sulfuric acid and dissolving heavy metals such as selenium, copper, and arsenic (Rezaie and Anderson 2020). ...
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In British Columbia (BC), Canada, there is increased attention on mines and their impacts on water resources. In BC, many proposed mines undergo provincial environmental assessment (EA), which predicts a mine's risks and involves government oversight and public engagement. After approval, mines can apply for amendments that alter the project's undertakings, including in ways that may harm water resources. We examined all amendment documents for mines undergoing provincial EA in BC from 2002 to 2020. Of the 23 approved mines, 15 (65%) requested a total of 49 amendments , of which 98% were approved. Most mines applied for their first amendment within 3 years of approval. We deemed 20 of the approved amendments (associated with 10 projects) likely to have negative impacts on water resources, including changes to effluent discharge, increased volume of water extraction, or degradation of fish habitat. Amendment applications and approval documents lacked specific, quantitative information to reinforce claims or decisions. We present the first known summary of EA amendments in any jurisdiction. Given that most mines in BC receive amendments, and many are related to water, we express concern that amendment processes increase risk to water resources without meeting standards of evidence and public scrutiny required by the regular EA process.
... Mine Drainage (AMD), biodiversity loss, from mining makes the situation more complicated than ever (Islam et al., 2020b;Islam and Murakami, 2020;Iwatsuki et al., 2018;Murakami et al., 2020;Sovacool et al., 2020). Mining could also pose a transboundary risk depending on the size and location (e.g., the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell copper-gold mine in transboundary Unuk River in Canada) (Sexton et al., 2020). ...
Mining is environmentally disruptive which requires tons of earth materials to be removed and causes modification in original land cover while having environmental burdens e.g., carbon emission, water pollution, among others. The processing of minerals also produces waste materials known as tailings which has the potential to create huge impact both on the environment and society if the tailings stored in the dam failed. Since mining is the starting point of the supply-chain for minerals, reducing the environmental and social impact of it could also reduce the impact on the downstream industries that are dependent on it. The objective of this dissertation is to account the environmental-social footprints in the mining sector utilizing geospatial and operational data for the sake of the environmental and social risk management of global supply chains. First, the carbon footprint (CF) of mining of a case study site is estimated incorporating life cycle assessment (LCA) with satellite image analysis. Secondly, the water footprint (WF) of mining of the same site is accounted which provides a better understanding regarding the choice of renewable energy. According to the findings, the CF is lower than the average value for typical open-pit mine which is due to use of hydroelectricity as a renewable source of energy. However, satellite image analysis also shows the intensity of land use change along with the carbon emission from lost vegetation from the site. Though the CF of the mining site is lower due to hydroelectricity, it increases the WF significantly. Therefore, the right choice of renewables is crucial which is also found from the ecological footprint (EF) accounting, performed as the third approach in this study on a global scale for 295 mines using LCA and satellite image analysis. Depending on the mining methods employed there could be variation in the footprint which is important to reduce the impact. Evidently, open cut/pit mines have higher EF of built-up land where the values are greater which practices riverine tailings disposal - the most environmentally disruptive mine waste management mechanism. On the other hand, underground mines have greater EF of carbon absorption land. Reduction of carbon absorption land could be achieved if carbon sequestration by plants either on-site or off-site is put into practice. Fourthly, this study also performed a global scale impact analysis of mine tailings dam failures for the past hundred years of 366 cases. The updated database is then used to map the risk of existing tailings failures as an implication of the findings. Finally, the application of environmental footprint as a whole package, is performed for clay fired brick production. The findings of this dissertation are expected to contribute to reducing the environmental-social footprints of the mining sector. There is a tradeoff between CF and WF which suggests conducting both the accounts simultaneously to get the overall picture of the environmental impacts. Ecological footprint accounting of the mines could be used as the benchmark by which respective mining company could plan to reduce its carbon footprint. On the other hand, the existing tailings dam risk mapping could be useful to reduce the impact on society and the people.
... In addition, preexisting environmental challenges like land use changes (LUC), carbon emissions, water pollution, acid mine drainage (AMD), and the loss of biodiversity due to mining activities makes this situation more complicated than ever Iwatsuki et al., 2018;Murakami et al., 2020;Sovacool et al., 2020). Moreover, depending on the size and location (e.g., the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell copper-gold mine in transboundary Unuk River in Canada), mining can also pose transboundary risks (Sexton et al., 2020). ...
Tailings are the waste materials generated from mining activities and are typically stored in large man-made earthen dams in the form of slurry. Failures of such tailings dams can have deleterious effects on the environment and even impact areas that are miles away from the failed dam. In this study, we updated the existing tailings dam failure database developed by the International Commission on Large Dams and World Information Service on Energy and analyzed the impacts of dam failure over the past hundred years from a global perspective. In addition, we prepared a tailings dam spatial database. The impact of mine tailings dam failure on aquatic environments was also investigated using a proxy environmental indicator—the gray water footprint. The resulting information from the historical overview of dam failures, was used to map the risk associated with existing tailings dams as well as the magnitude of tailings dam failures. Furthermore, we integrated mining commodity production data and the tailings dam failure data. This revealed that the number of failures is rising once again, and the trajectory of dam failures has shifted from developed to developing countries. Only a few dam failure incidents have had significant impacts. Although safer technologies are available to manage mine waste, most extractive industries are yet to adopt such technologies into their standard practices. Moreover, the reluctance of mining companies for the public disclosure of information related to tailings dams and dam failures hinders efforts to establish a complete tailings dam database. We have provided up-to-date tailings dam information, which may be useful for extractive industries.
... A current transboundary issue related to the Elk River, Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai River downstream involves selenium and other aquatic contaminants(19). These originate from the large mountain-top metallurgical coal mines in the Elk Valley between Elkford and Sparwood. ...
... Therefore, the migratory life cycle of salmon poses additional challenges to sustainability by creating mismatches between management decisions, fishery opportunities, and the biologically relevant processes that support salmon populations (e.g., river disturbance, rainfall and temperature, and ocean climate and productivity; Bottom et al. 2009, Malick et al. 2017. These mismatches have created adverse downstream consequences for people, ecosystems, and salmon through intensive mixed-stock harvest, resource development, land use, and overproduction of hatchery salmon by industrial nations around the Pacific Rim (e.g., Moore et al. 2015, Sexton et al. 2020, Vierros et al. 2020. Supporting greater engagement and participation in monitoring and management among Indigenous peoples and local communities is one avenue toward alleviating the negative impacts of these scale mismatches (Herse et al. 2020). ...
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Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) are at the center of social–ecological systems that have supported Indigenous peoples around the North Pacific Rim since time immemorial. Through generations of interdependence with salmon, Indigenous Peoples developed sophisticated systems of management involving cultural and spiritual beliefs, and stewardship practices. Colonization radically altered these social–ecological systems, disrupting Indigenous management, consolidating authority within colonial governments, and moving most harvest into mixed-stock fisheries. We review Indigenous management of salmon, including selective fishing technologies, harvest practices, and governance grounded in multigenerational place-based knowledge. These systems and practices showcase pathways for sustained productivity and resilience in contemporary salmon fisheries. Contrasting Indigenous systems with contemporary management, we document vulnerabilities of colonial governance and harvest management that have contributed to declining salmon fisheries in many locations. We suggest that revitalizing traditional systems of salmon management can improve prospects for sustainable fisheries and healthy fishing communities and identify opportunities for their resurgence.
Increased nutrient loading in aquatic environments can have a long‐lasting influence on ecosystem processes and functions. The Kootenai River was historically oligotrophic, but nitrate levels have been steadily increasing since the mid‐2000s, while phosphorus levels have remained low. Our study objective was to evaluate the current nutrient distribution throughout the Kootenai River watershed in the context of land use and land cover change. Each of the three land cover types we assessed, agriculture, developed areas, and surface mines, encompass less than 1% of the land area in the Kootenai River watershed. We measured nitrate, ammonium, and soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP) monthly at sites spanning 400 river km on the Kootenai River, and co‐located tributary sites in British Columbia, Canada, and Montana and Idaho, USA. During July 2017, we measured the same nutrients along each of the selected tributaries with co‐located sites at sub‐catchment tributaries. Sites were selected to include a range of contributing drainage areas identified as agricultural, developed, or mining. Nutrient concentrations ranged from 0.012 to 4.299 mg/L for nitrate, 0.0005–0.02 mg/L for ammonium, and 0.003–0.076 mg/L for SRP. Nitrate concentrations were elevated downstream of mining land cover, and decreased with distance from the mining areas; however, nitrate remained elevated compared to sites not affected by mining activity. If the imbalance of N:P continues to increase due to nitrate loading, resources available to biota may become skewed, resulting in alterations to ecosystem processes and functions critical to support the biodiversity in the Kootenai River.
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Cropland expansion represents an important cause of tropical deforestation, contributing to the loss of ecosystems’ functions. Flex-crops (for example, oil palm, soy and sugar cane) account for an increasing share of cropland and contribute considerably to carbon emissions and biodiversity loss. Various forms of inequality have been shown to affect agricultural expansion, yet the effect of wealth concentration among the super-rich is understudied. Here I show how, over the period 1991–2014, the large amount of wealth in the hands of high-net-worth individuals (HNWI) stimulated foreign direct investments in agriculture in Latin America and Southeast Asia. This, in turn, drove the expansion of flex-crops areas. The combination of these two effects implies that a 1% increase in the wealth of HNWI generated an expansion of the flex-crops area share of up to 2.4–10%. The results point to the urgency of addressing wealth inequality to protect the remaining forests.
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Environmental assessment is the process that decision-makers rely on to predict, evaluate, and prevent biophysical, social, and economic impacts of potential project developments. The determination of significance in environmental assessment is central to environmental management in many nations. We reviewed ten recent environmental impact assessments from British Columbia, Canada and systematically reviewed and scored significance determination and the approaches used by assessors, the use of thresholds in significance determination, threshold exceedances, and the outcomes. Findings of significant impacts were exceedingly rare and practitioners used a combination of significance determination approaches, most commonly relying upon reasoned argumentation. Quantitative thresholds were rarely employed, with less than 10% of the valued components evaluated using thresholds. Even where quantitative thresholds for significance were exceeded, in every case practitioners used a variety of rationales to demote negative impacts to non-significance. These reasons include combinations of scale (temporal and spatial) of impacts, an already exceeded baseline, model uncertainty and/or substituting less stringent thresholds. Governments and agencies can better protect resources by requiring clear and defensible significance determinations, by making government-defined thresholds legally enforceable and accountable, and by requiring or encouraging significance determination through inclusive and collaborative approaches.
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growing scientifi c evidence of the negative impacts . Our analyses of current studies and water-quality data from WV streams revealed serious environmental impacts that mitigation practices successfully Published studies human health impacts.
In the search of material properties out-of-equilibrium, the non-equilibrium steady states induced by electric current are an appealing research direction where unconventional states may emerge. However, the unavoidable Joule heating caused by flowing current calls for the development of new measurement protocols, with particular attention to the physical properties of the background materials involved. Here, we demonstrate that localized heating can give rise to a large, spurious diamagnetic-like signal. This occurs due to the local reduction of the background magnetization caused by the heated sample, provided that the background material has a Curie-like susceptibility. Our experimental results, along with numerical calculations, constitute an important building block for performing accurate magnetic measurements under the flow of electric current.
Loss of fish habitat in North America has occurred at an unprecedented rate through the last century. In response, the Canadian Parliament enacted the habitat provisions of the Fisheries Act. Under these provisions, a "harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction to fish habitat" (HADD) cannot occur unless authorised by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), with legally binding compensatory habitat to offset the HADD. The guiding principle to DFO's conservation goal is "no net loss of the productive capacity of fish habitats" (NNL). However, performance in achieving NNL has never been evaluated on a national scale. We investigated 52 habitat compensation projects across Canada to determine compliance with physical, biological, and chemical requirements of Section 35(2) Fisheries Act authorisations. Biological requirements had the lowest compliance (58%) and chemical requirements the highest (100%). Compliance with biological requirements differed among habitat categories and was poorest (19% compliance) in riparian habitats. Approximately 86% of authorisations had larger HADD and/or smaller compensation areas than authorised. The largest noncompliance in terms of habitat area occurred in riverine habitat in which HADDs were, on average, 343% larger than initially authorised. In total, 67% of compensation projects resulted in net losses of habitat area, 2% resulted in no net loss, and 31% achieved a net gain in habitat area. Interestingly, probable violations of the Fisheries Act were prevalent at half of the projects. Analyses indicated that the frequency of probable Fisheries Act violations differed among provinces. Habitat compensation to achieve NNL, as currently implemented in Canada, is at best only slowing the rate of habitat loss. In all likelihood, increasing the amount of authorised compensatory habitat in the absence of institutional changes will not reverse this trend. Improvements in monitoring and enforcement are necessary to move towards achieving Canada's conservation goals.
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