A very steep and winding road with many spectacular views of the Similkameen Valley below brought us to the Nickel Plate Mine Water Treatment Facility.
Barrack Gold Corporation owns the site but never operated it as a mine. It was bought as a bulk purchase of gold properties. The pre-existing Mine Mill Building is used as a treatment centre for contaminated ground water from the previous mine gold extraction process.
Vanessa Bell, Barrick’s senior environmental specialist, indicated that when the Nickel Plate Mine went into production in 1987, many of today’s “best environmental practices for mining” were not in place. The Tailings Storage Facility did not have lined ponds! As a result, the ground water and surrounding soils became contaminated with cyanide and other toxic chemicals used in the gold extraction procedure.
The Water Treatment Facility pumps the water up from the Tailings Site to the Treatment Facility where it is processed using a series of very complicated biological treatments that are actually used in sewage treatment plants. At the last stage the water is analyzed for appropriate chemical levels and purity and then released into Hedley Creek. The amount of the release is proportionate to the levels of water in the creek, less in summer as creek levels are lower. The creek then flows into the Similkameen River. There is also a sludge byproduct with this decontamination process. This sludge could eventually be used by the agricultural sector.
Our guide informed us that the Barrick Gold Corporation is planning some upgrades to the facility. The treatment and remediation plans, however, are open ended and it could take as long as 125 years for the land and ground water to be restored to normal levels. A very sad legacy in our extraction based communities.