THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - Just because Tulameen River water has turned black does not mean there's cause for alarm.
The B.C. environment ministry and the Interior Health Authority assure the public the black water, caused by 24,605 litres of dark water overflowing a coal mining site's tailing pond, has little or no impact to drinking water sources in the Coalmont and Tulameen areas.
The Basin Coal Mine, run by the Coalmont Energy Corp., had one of its tailing ponds overflow and spill into Collins Gulch which feeds into the Tulameen which feeds the Similkameen River.
The ministry stated in an email, regulated water systems in the Coalmont or Tulameen area draw from well water sources which are unaffected by the spill and the river is already anticipated to be flushed clear.
For residents using the Tulameen River for drinking water the ministry wants residents using bottled water if the water is still not clear. For people swimming on the river, IH recommends to not drink the water, keep eyes closed under water and towel dry after swimming. If the water is discoloured IH recommends not swimming.
The ministry is sampling the Tulameen River around Coalmont and Princeton to further confirm there are no impacts on water quality. An investigation has started but is too early to say if fines or charges will result from the accident.
If residents have questions related to their drinking water they can call the IH Penticton office at 250-770-5540.
The incident happened Saturday in late afternoon, company spokesperson Keith Meldrum said. There was a small breach of a containment area otherwise known as a tailing pond. Water used in company's coal mining process had to be put into the pond temporarily.
Meldrum explained the water never leaves the machinery it's used in, it's just reused. It's only extracted when there's a mechanical issue which there was. The mine was shut down, the water removed, repairs were made and mining resumed. Five days later the same issue came up again. There was a mechanical issue, the water was removed but this time some of the water spilled over the top of the tailings pond and entered the river.
Meldrum said the 24,605 or 6,500 gallons was a small amount. He said the tailings are mostly water, soil and bentonite clay with small amounts of coal.
The company was shocked and surprised the spill happened Meldrum said and it's preparing a public information session for nearby residents. About 40 people work on-site at the mine.
"We want to keep the local residents up to date. We are looking to make that community connection." Mine company officials will hold a public information session on Friday at 5 p.m. at the Tulameen Community Hall on 2597 Otter Ave.
Meldrum does not know when the plant will resume operations but he did say the company will upgrade the tailings pond to make sure this doesn't happen again.
The released coal residue was visible along Collins Gulch and the Tulameen River over a 15 km stretch.
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