By Letter to the Editor on December 2, 2020.
B.C. has decades of experience with damage caused by open-pit coal mines. In the Elk Valley, both the Elk and the Fording Rivers are contaminated with selenium. Some ranchers are trucking in water for their cattle. Wells have been closed in. The U.S. government has sent a formal complaint to Canada and to B.C. about selenium contamination in the Elk River as it crosses the border into the U.S.
B.C. has set safe levels of selenium in drinking water at 10 parts per billion. However, measurements throughout the Elk Valley below the mines have found selenium levels at 50-70 ppb and in many cases, levels are higher than 100 ppb.
All the major rivers flowing across the Prairies have their headwaters in the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies. In southern Alberta, we are lucky if we get 15 inches of precipitation per year. Without access to the clean water of the Oldman River, we would not have irrigation and our economic activity would plummet. What happens when our rivers become contaminated with selenium?
The Benga coal-mine project will be located right next to the headwaters of the Oldman River. It is projected to bring in $1.7 billion in taxes and royalties plus jobs over a couple of decades. In southern Alberta, agriculture and related economic activities are worth $2 billion a year in perpetuity. Why are we putting at risk our farmers, our ranchers, our feedlots, our food processing industries and all the associated jobs – basically our future – for 20 years of cash?