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Ground and surface water a major focus for Ajax

Sponsored Content Protecting local water in the ground and on the surface, in places both close to and far from the proposed Ajax mine, has been a big priority for the Ajax Project, say KGHM staff and consultants.
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Sponsored Content Protecting local water in the ground and on the surface, in places both close to and far from the proposed Ajax mine, has been a big priority for the Ajax Project, say KGHM staff and consultants.

"Those concerns for the quality of our region's water are reflected in the intensive work done studying water as part of the Ajax Project environmental assessment process," said Nicola Banton, the Ajax Project's Permitting Manager.

Banton said it's clear that many in the community are concerned about water quality. Comments submitted by the public highlighted concerns about the Project's potential effects on water bodies in the area -- in particular Peterson Creek, Jacko Lake, the Thompson rivers and Kamloops Lake -- as well as the potential for mine water seepage into local groundwater supplies.

Another issue raised was how water pumped from Kamloops Lake for use at the mine would affect overall water levels in the lake, underlining concerns about the mine's effect on fishing in the area.

The Ajax Project's Application/Environmental Impact Statement looked extensively at the quality of local surface and groundwater and found that water quality in creeks, rivers and lakes in and around Kamloops is predicted to remain safe for people, livestock, wild animals and the environment.

"That includes household water used for cooking, drinking and bathing, which is drawn from the City's municipal water system," said Banton.

Comprehensive studies of surface and groundwater quality examined how the project could affect Jacko Lake, Peterson Creek, Humphrey Creek, the Thompson rivers, and the Peterson Creek Aquifer.

A major part of these studies was the development of computer-aided water quantity and quality models that were used to estimate water changes within the project's footprint and in surrounding waterways. These models -- in effect, highly complex simulations with adjustable inputs -- were run under a range of varying conditions. By examining how water in various waterbodies reacted, project engineers were able to optimize their designs in order to minimize impacts, or in the event some level of impact was unavoidable, develop the most effective mitigation techniques.

These techniques include designing a dry cover closure for the tailings storage facility, limiting the mine's facilities to a single watershed (Peterson Creek), siting management ponds to maximize the capture of mine contact water, and lining those ponds with an impermeable layer of material.

Water Management and Monitoring

In addition to an optimized project design and mitigation systems, KGHM has also committed to ongoing water monitoring and adaptive management programs to closely track and address any water quality issues if they arise, Banton said.

The programs include monitoring of surface water, ground water, erosion and sediment control, and effects on fisheries. Examining trends in monitoring data will allow KGHM to anticipate changes and apply new mitigation techniques.

Jacko Lake

As local fishers and First Nations use Jacko Lake for recreational and traditional purposes, it was important for KGHM Ajax to understand how water quality in the Lake could be affected.

"After detailed study, the experts concluded that Jacko Lake's waters will not exceed any benchmarks or guidelines for water quality, and will continue to be safe for people and fish," Banton said.

Kamloops Lake

Water is a very important resource in Kamloops' arid climate, so the project was designed to reuse water as much as possible, minimizing the need to draw water from Kamloops Lake. All water that comes into contact with the mine's facilities will be captured and recycled, and those supplies will be supplemented as needed, she noted.

To process minerals, KGHM proposes drawing water from Kamloops Lake at a maximum rate of 1,505 cubic metres/hour, but only in rare circumstances. The annual average withdrawal rate is estimated to be about 990 cubic metres/hour.

"To put that in perspective, the maximum extraction for the project is less than 0.25 per cent of average monthly flow through the lake, and only 0.35 per cent of monthly flow through the lake at its 10-year low," said Banton.

"Assuming a situation with maximum withdrawals and low lake flows during drought conditions, the project could potentially lower the lake by two to four millimetres. But those assumptions are highly conservative, and actual changes in the lake level are likely to be undetectable."

Aberdeen Groundwater

Lastly, the Ajax Project's Application looked at the issue of whether the proposed mine could impact groundwater levels in Aberdeen, an area with historic problems regarding groundwater and soil stability.

The Ajax team, using site data as well as the City of Kamloops' data, analyzed the potential for effects on groundwater and concluded the distances between the proposed mine and Aberdeen are too great to cause impacts, she said.