Department of Ecology News Release - July 20 2012

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Buckhorn mine fined $395,000 for water quality violations

YAKIMA – The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) has issued a penalty of $395,000 to Crown Resources Corp. for water quality violations at the Buckhorn Mountain gold mine near Chesaw in Okanogan County, Wash. Crown Resources is a subsidiary of Kinross Gold Corp.

In 2011 and 2012, the Buckhorn Mountain mine’s groundwater capture zone failed to contain spring rains and snow melt, resulting in contaminated water reaching Gold Bowl Creek. In 2011, the mine discharged treated mine water in such a way that resulted in a landslide and debris flow that damaged Gold Bowl Creek. Water management during spring snow melt has been a well-documented problem at the mine.

The 2011 landslide generated a debris flow that significantly damaged a large portion of Gold Bowl Creek’s stream channel. Ecology estimates it will take years to stabilize and re-establish damaged soils and vegetation on the slope and along Gold Bowl Creek. As a result, slope and stream bed erosion is expected to carry sediment down Gold Bowl Creek for years.

Crown was cited for failing to maintain its groundwater capture zone for a total of 94 days during both years. Violations in 2011 include allowing water discharges causing slope instability and erosion, and for discharging water at an unauthorized point. The mine is required to capture contaminated groundwater from around mine excavations and tunnels and under surface stockpiles, and pump it to a treatment plant.

“Crown Resources is required to establish and maintain a groundwater capture zone at all times to protect water quality outside the capture zone,” explained Lorraine Powell, an Ecology hydro-geologist. “Water has to be pumped out of the mine workings and surrounding capture zone areas and treated onsite so water quality is protected while mine operations continue.”
 
According to Ecology’s investigation, the violations occurred primarily because the mine didn’t have adequate capacity to capture the contaminated water generated by the underground mine workings during the 2011 and 2012 spring seasons. Water generated in the underground mine can carry high concentrations of heavy metals such as copper, lead and zinc that must be captured and processed before being discharged at approved outfalls. In addition to heavy metals, the mine must meet standards for sulfate, nitrate, and acidity and must manage stormwater. 

Excess mine water is collected in sump areas and flooded mine workings and is then pumped to holding reservoirs or to the wastewater treatment plant. In addition, groundwater is pumped from dewatering wells to capture pollutants introduced through mine operations and then is processed at the water treatment plant. The treated water is either discharged at approved outfalls or returned to the mine and reused. 

Since operations began at the mine in 2007, Ecology has issued $62,000 in penalties, six notices of violation and six administrative orders directing the company to control stormwater, rectify groundwater capture zone inadequacies, prevent slope failures, and comply with permit limits for nitrates, sulfate, acidity, copper, lead, zinc and solids from stormwater ponds.

The mine is permitted to discharge treated mine water and stormwater to both surface and groundwater under its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit. The NPDES Permit issued in September 2007 is up for renewal this fall. Ecology is working with Crown Resources to update the permit and ensure that mine water management requirements address violations at the mine.

“We want to make it clear that Crown must operate the mine in a way that protects water quality as required in their discharge permit and by state law,” said Kelly Susewind, Ecology’s water quality program manager in Olympia. “The mine is important to the economy of the area. Water quality is important to its future as well. We believe both can be maintained.”

 Crown Resources has 30 days to pay the penalty or file an appeal with the state Pollution Control Hearings Board.

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Media Contact: Joye Redfield-Wilder, Communications Manager, 509-575-2610; joye.redfield-wilder@ecy.wa.gov

Copies of enforcement action:
http://www.ecy.wa.gov/news/2012/docs/20120716_buckhornmt_letter.pdf
http://www.ecy.wa.gov/news/2012/docs/20120716_buckhornmt_notice.pdf

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