Report shows Columbia River’s health improving

The Columbia River is healthier than ever, according to Teck Trail Operations' most recent environmental study.

The Columbia River is healthier than ever, according to Teck Trail Operations’ most recent environmental study.

Catherine Adair, community relations leader at Teck, says the Lower Columbia River Aquatic Receiving Environment Monitoring Program (AREMP) annual report shows lower metal levels, and no adverse effects in animals. The report gathered information over a 19-month period, recording levels of metals, elements and other substances in the river and in animals living there.

“The water quality over the last 20 years has continued to improve,” she said. “As an example, the study found that metal concentrations in fish tissue continued to decline from 2000 to 2012.”

The water flowing down the Columbia River and past Teck was thoroughly tested during times of low flow, both up and down river from the smelter, at the shoreline and in water columns found mid-river.

The Columbia River is considered to be on the low end of the spectrum for levels of aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium, silver, thallium and zinc.

In most cases, metal levels were higher in water downstream from the smelter, but are still below environmental guidelines.

Only aluminum, cadmium and mercury amounts went above the provincial guidelines, but not because of industry. Levels were high both upstream and down from the smelter.

The City of Trail gets its drinking water from the river, but Adair says residents have no reason to be concerned.

“The water intake for the City of Trail is located upstream of our operation,” she said. “Additionally, the study confirmed that the water quality is good.”

Like the river water, fish and other wildlife living in and around the Columbia are getting healthier.

According to the report, large bodied fish, like Rainbow Trout, Mountain Whitefish and Walleye, have lower arsenic, cadmium and lead concentrations in dissected fish compared to results from previous tests in 2000. Following Canadian guidelines, the species’ are considered safe for fishers to catch and eat.

In small-bodied fish, like Sculpin, the report says there were higher metal concentrations in the species found downstream versus upstream of Teck Trail Operations, but levels were relatively low and were below provincial regulations, presenting no danger to overall river or species health.

Other wildlife using the river as a home or a food source, like a great Blue Heron, a river otter or a Kingfisher, are unaffected by any metals or contaminants.

As well as providing a snapshot of the Columbia River’s health, the report, says Adair, will give Teck Trail Operations a new standard to compare future results against, and determine any environmental trends, positive or negative.

“This study was focused on providing an in-depth baseline which will be used by future monitoring programs to look for any changes within the environment,” she said, adding that the smelter always has fail-safes in place to prevent any contamination of the river.

“Teck has three outfall points that are continuously monitored and sampled to detect any abnormal conditions. Any abnormal conditions trigger alarms and an immediate response to address the issue. We have extensive measures in place including plant and equipment design, instrumentation and control procedures to ensure our effluent (water discharge) remains within our permits.”

The report was put together for Teck Trail Operations by Ecoscape Environmental Consultants and Larratt Aquatic Consulting from January 2012 through to July 2013 and covered smelter discharge, groundwater discharge, Stoney and Trail Creek, discharge from other industries like the pulp mill, municipal sewage and any metals that may naturally show up in the environment.

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