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Voisey's Bay Mine and Mill Environmental Assessment Panel Report
8 Freshwater Fish and Fish Habitat
Through a variety of alterations and activities, the Project could affect fish and the habitat they use in eight watersheds. VBNC collected baseline data for these watersheds. In addition, a freshwater connection exists for much of the year between the outlets of Reid, Kogluktokoluk and Ikadlivik brooks. In fact, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) calls Reid Brook a tributary of the larger Kogluktokoluk-Ikadlivik system. Therefore, VBNC also collected baseline data for this ninth watershed. See map of Area Watersheds on page 56.
Because of the high relief and peninsular location of the Project, the eight watersheds are small, ranging in size from about 10 to 170 km². Although aquatic productivity is low throughout the Landscape Region in comparison to productivity in more southern areas, the aquatic ecosystems in the area's two distinct ecological landscapes differ significantly. In the high upland areas, low nutrient availability, intermittent flows and steep gradients limit fish habitat and productivity. In contrast, relatively higher productivity is found in the larger streams and rivers that wind through deep sands and gravels in the low-lying, sheltered, well-vegetated valleys. The Kogluktokoluk-Ikadlivik-Reid brook system, along with its estuarine delta, provides extensive fish habitat, especially for Arctic char, and is recognized as one of the most ecologically rich areas in the Landscape Region and northern Labrador.
VBNC's field studies determined that fish species in the assessment area include Arctic char, brook trout, lake trout, round whitefish, three-spine stickleback and nine-spine stickleback.
The mine, the mill, the accommodation complex, the overburden and waste rock storage facilities, and the initial tailings management facility (Headwater Pond) would all be located within the Reid Brook watershed, together with haulage roads and approximately half of the Project's main access road. However, VBNC proposes to divert much of the drainage directly affected by Project activities into other watersheds to reduce impacts on Reid Brook.
The facility for managing the underground phase tailings, the North Tailings Basin, would destroy habitat in three ponds and affect three additional watersheds by diverting streams, producing seepage through containment dams or discharging excess water during the post-decommissioning phase. Construction of related access roads and a tailings pipeline would also affect these ponds and watersheds.
VBNC assessed the potential impacts of Project construction, planned and routine activities, and accidental events, including hazardous material spills, fire, rupture of either the tailings or effluent pipelines, dam failure, and road flooding or washout. It used the following headings when assessing potential environmental effects on fish and fish habitat:
- habitat loss, caused by stream diversion or dewatering, and by the conversion of ponds into tailings management facilities;
- fish loss, which would occur when operations began in the tailings management facilities; and
- habitat modification, caused by a variety of activities that may alter water flows, change shoreline characteristics, or result in inputs of suspended solids, or of metals and other chemicals.
Contaminant modelling was done to predict the uptake of contaminants in three representative aquatic organisms: Arctic char, brook trout and an unspecified freshwater snail (see Chapter 7, Contaminants in the Environment).
VBNC proposes to protect Reid Brook and other freshwater systems by
- consolidating facilities and reducing areas of disturbance;
- discharging treated effluent from the two tailings facilities and the mill into saltwater at Edward's Cove and Kangeklualuk Bay;
- maximizing the use of recycled water, thereby minimizing water extraction;
- collecting and treating site drainage, ultimately discharging the effluent out of the Reid Brook watershed; and
- permanently diverting outflows from the Headwater Pond tailings management facility through the Throat Bay watershed in the post-decommissioning phase.
- The company will incorporate other mitigative measures into the Environmental Protection Plan, such as the following:
- erosion and sediment control facilities and practices;
- procedures to protect fish and fish habitat during activities such as road grading, blasting, excavation, dredging and airstrip de-icing, which would include timing such activities so that they don't coincide with sensitive periods for fish;
- education and training for personnel; and
- a no-fishing policy for employees.
Besides the federal and provincial environmental assessment processes, three key pieces of legislation form the regulatory context for fish and fish habitat protection. Under the Fisheries Act, DFO regulates all in-stream and near-stream activities that could affect fish habitat. Subsection 35(1) states that no person can carry out any work or undertaking that results in harmful alteration, disruption or destruction (HADD) of fish habitat. However, under subsection 35(2), DFO may authorize HADD of fish habitat associated with project development activities.
In 1986, DFO issued the Policy for the Management of Fish Habitat, which included the "no net loss" guiding principle. This principle is designed to maintain productive fish habitat capacity by replacing, on a case by case basis, habitat that is unavoidably lost. As a result, when DFO authorizes HADD, the proponent is required to negotiate a habitat compensation plan with DFO and to sign a legally binding contractual agreement. In reviewing compensation options, DFO employs a hierarchy of preferences, which are defined in the Policy for the Management of Fish Habitat and summarized as follows.
- Avoid habitat loss through project redesign, relocation or mitigation.
- Replace habitat capacity at or near the project site.
- Replace habitat capacity off site or increase productivity of existing habitat for affected stock.
- When none of the above methods of habitat replacement is technically feasible, supplement the fishery resource through artificial production. (DFO notes that this should happen only in rare cases.)
Also under the Fisheries Act, liquid discharges from the Project must meet the requirements of the Metal Mining Liquid Effluent Regulations, which are administered by Environment Canada. In addition, permits are required under the Navigable Waters Protection Act for any works that interfere with public navigation, which would include the tailings management facilities.
Under the provincial Environmental Control Water and Sewer Regulations, the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Environment and Labour regulates water extractions, various forms of construction in and beside watercourses, and wastewater discharges.
In 1995, VBNC initiated baseline studies of stream hydrology, pond bathymetry, water and sediment quality, primary productivity, benthic macroinvertebrates, and fish and fish habitat, among other topics. Some of this work continued into 1998 and VBNC provided a progress report on it during the hearings.
DFO and VBNC have not fully determined the total amount of fish habitat that the Project would alter, disrupt or destroy. In the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), VBNC predicts that the Project would affect the ponds used by the two tailings management facilities, and some stream habitat close to the open pit and the South Sedimentation Pond, among other sites. However, VBNC does not consider this to be a residual impact because it would replace the habitat through the fish habitat compensation agreement. In other areas where the Project may reduce water flows, VBNC commits to maintaining minimum instream flows or replacing the habitat through the compensation agreement.
Negligible or minor residual environmental effects are predicted for each of the eight watersheds, with the following exceptions:
- accidents could have negligible to major effects; and
- nickel contained in water released from the two tailings facilities during the post-decommissioning phase could result in sub-lethal (moderate) effects on snails in the North Tailings Basin Brook, downstream from Dam 2 as far as and including Pond 57, while aluminum contained in that water could result in sub-lethal effects on char in the same area of the North Tailings Basin Brook and in Throat Bay Brook in Pond 64.
8.1 Effects on Char
Discussions centered mainly on the anadromous char that spends most of the year in the Reid Brook system. It is larger and much more abundant than the land-locked char found in some lakes. As VBNC pointed out, sea-run char has been an important local food source for many generations and has sustained an important commercial fishery since the 1970s.
In its baseline work, VBNC expended considerable effort on Arctic char studies. For example, it studied biological characteristics that determine fish growth rate and production, conducted radio-telemetry studies of fish caught in both Reid Brook and Ikadlivik Brook to learn more about migration patterns, did a survey to document areas of spawning activity in Reid Brook and operated a counting fence in Reid Brook. VBNC also made use of DFO's extensive work on Arctic char in Labrador.
Nevertheless, the state of knowledge about the Voisey's Bay char stock is not all that advanced, according to DFO. For population information, apart from VBNC's recent tagging and counting studies, DFO depends on commercial landings, which in turn depend on the level of fishing effort expended. VBNC suggested that the stock was depressed below the natural capacity of the area because of overfishing. DFO questioned this, and suggested that char could be much more abundant than the catch statistics suggest. Landings are depressed, but DFO is not sure if that means stocks are low. The Department does know, however, that abundance in any given river system can vary significantly from year to year.
Because VBNC found char in the lower reaches of Camp Pond Brook, DFO recommended re-evaluating the Project's effects on char. It may be that char use Camp Pond Brook only during years of high water. However, since Project effects would likely be more pronounced in Camp Pond Brook than in Reid Brook, the Panel agrees that VBNC should provide more information on the significance of Camp Pond Brook to char and should make every effort to ensure that the Project does not affect char using this brook (see Recommendation 17). A HADD determination should occur only as a last resort.
In Reid Brook, it appears that the key areas of spawning and overwintering habitat are located upstream from the outlet of Camp Pond Brook, while the Project would mainly affect downstream water quality and quantity. Char are found in the lower reaches of Reid Brook year round; however, individual fish spend only a short time there because they are passing through. Therefore, it would be crucial to maintain adequate water flow to ensure that char could move freely between habitat in the upper reaches of Reid Brook, Ikadlivik Brook and the Voisey's Bay estuary.
DFO, the Innu Nation and others have questioned the reliability of flow predictions based on a relatively short period of on-site hydrometric observations. VBNC has committed to continuing these observations and to updating its water management plan in accordance with the results. Intervenors also argued against the use of mean values for surface flows, on the basis that flow reductions could be more harmful at times of natural low flow. The Panel concludes that VBNC should establish and justify minimum flow requirements and should demonstrate how its water management plan will guarantee those flows consistently, including during dry years. The Panel addresses this issue in Recommendation 17.
8.2 Habitat Loss
At the hearings, the Panel heard considerable discussion about applying the federal "no net loss" principle to the Project. Participants also discussed, at length, the connections between the process used to determine HADD, the likely or desirable results of this process, and the identification and ranking of fish habitat impacts in the EIS. DFO's working definition of HADD is "any change in fish habitat that reduces its capacity to support one or more life processes of fish."
While DFO defines fish habitat as including physical, chemical and biological attributes, it addresses physical alterations only when determining HADD. Physical alterations include changes in water flow, as well as sedimentation that smothers or otherwise physically alters bottom habitat. Chemical alterations are regulated under section 36 of the Fisheries Act, which deals with deleterious substances; Environment Canada administers this section.
VBNC predicts that the Project would destroy or disrupt standing water habitat in Headwater Pond and the North Tailings Basin; stream habitat in North Tailings Basin Brook below the tailings facility and in Tributary 1 in the Reid Brook watershed; and marine inter-tidal habitat at the port site.
In some areas where the Project would cause streamflow changes, the EIS concludes that the effects would fall within the range of natural variability of flow or pond level characteristics, and would therefore constitute neither HADD nor a residual impact. This conclusion assumes that, in some cases, mitigation may be required to provide minimum instream flow. The EIS does not describe how these minimum flows would be determined or provided. In a response to DFO, VBNC acknowledged that many concerns about flow alteration and its effects on fish habitat "can only be fully addressed when detailed design work is under way, at which time VBNC will address each flow alteration on a case by case basis." In some cases, the volume, timing and duration of flow alterations would depend on final design, water balance and process water requirements. Potential mitigation measures would include reducing water requirements or using alternate sources, avoiding sensitive periods or augmenting flow during dry periods.
VBNC emphasized its view that environmental assessment should not become embroiled in HADD determination: "HADD determination is a separate process and any attempt to resolve issues of HADD and compensation in the EA process is misplaced and in conflict with guidance from DFO." Nevertheless, VBNC complained on several occasions during hearings that it was having difficulty proceeding with the HADD identification process because DFO had not provided adequate quantification criteria.
VBNC provided its habitat quantification report to the Panel, although that report was not part of the EIS. The report indicated that the next step in the process would be a report on compensation options for anticipated fish habitat losses, followed by a stakeholder consultation process.
In DFO's opinion, HADD identification should be integrated into the environmental assessment process, and not left to a later permit stage. The Department criticized the EIS because, in its view, VBNC inadequately identified potential habitat effects. DFO maintained that it had provided ample information on quantification criteria and had referred VBNC to other literature on the topic. However, DFO did indicate that it has not yet developed criteria for identifying standing water and marine habitat.
In its recommendations to the Panel, DFO sought more detail on effects on fish habitat associated with
- the construction and operation of the tailings basins;
- the initial drawdown of water from those basins;
- flow alterations in the Reid Brook, North Tailings Basin, Throat Bay and Option 5 watersheds;
- plans for diverting, and then restoring, streams in these watersheds;
- sedimentation in Camp Pond; and
- the determination and maintenance of minimum streamflows.
The type of detail DFO sought included information on substrate use, the restriction or obstruction of migration, scouring, velocity barriers, projected habitat use, annual flow variations and sensitive biological time periods.
An expert for the Innu Nation criticized the amount of baseline data VBNC had collected and asserted that the EIS underestimated the amount of habitat that the Project would affect. He also suggested that Project alterations could affect upstream habitat, in some cases. VBNC indicated that it had examined the potential of upstream habitat, which in many cases was limited by obstructions, steep gradients or intermittent flows. The Innu Nation's main conclusion was that VBNC should re-examine alternative ways of carrying out the Project to see whether the scope of effects on fish habitat could be reduced. (The Panel discusses alternative methods of managing tailings in Chapter 6, Tailings, Mine Rock and Site Water Management.)
The Panel recognizes that determining HADD and negotiating a habitat compensation agreement is indeed a separate process from environmental assessment, in the same way that negotiating IBAs between the company and Aboriginal organizations is a separate process. But the Panel also believes that the HADD process has to be considered during environmental assessment because, like the IBAs, it would deliver significant elements of the mitigation program. Specifically, the HADD process would
- initiate a more detailed review of all potential physical habitat effects than is possible during environmental assessment, using DFO's expertise as well as that of the Project team to precisely identify the types of mitigative action that would prevent impacts in the first place (and therefore avoid HADD); and
- provide compensation for lost habitat in accordance with DFO's hierarchy of preferences.
The Panel agrees with VBNC that certain generic mitigation methods are well established, such as methods for controlling sedimentation at construction sites and for minimizing impacts through the design and construction of stream crossings. Other methods, particularly those for maintaining minimum water flows throughout the affected freshwater systems, would be more site specific.
The Panel believes that DFO has both the requisite regulatory powers and the resources to ensure a rigorous review and determination of HADD. Therefore, the Panel's main challenge is to assess the total probable effects of the Project on habitat, rather than to replicate DFO's job.
Perhaps the main conundrum for the Panel - and, at the hearings, DFO agreed that this was indeed a conundrum - is that no one knows at this stage how VBNC could deliver compensation. Could the company create similar habitat or increase productive capacity close by, for the same stock? Or would it be required to create new habitat off site, and what would this mean to local resource users? Or, if these alternatives would not work, would VBNC be required to pay cash compensation to be used by DFO elsewhere? (Although the proponent of the NWT BHP Diamonds Project was required to pay such compensation, the Panel recognizes that DFO considers this to be an unusual situation and not a desirable precedent.)
The Panel therefore concludes that the primary purpose of the HADD process should be to identify all possible ways to avoid HADD. For the purposes of the assessment, VBNC has provided sufficient baseline information to indicate the likely general scope of effects on habitat. However, as part of the HADD process, VBNC needs to provide more information on how it proposes to avoid harmful impacts to fish habitat, particularly by maintaining minimum flows. For example, VBNC must determine what flows different species require in different parts of the system at different times of the year, and how it can ensure these flows.
The Panel recommends that, before DFO provides authorizations under subsection 35(2) of the Fisheries Act, VBNC prepare a fish habitat protection report on the proposed prevention and mitigation elements of both the Project design and the environmental protection plan. This report should address
- mitigation of effects arising from flow alterations during construction, pump down periods, operation and decommissioning;
- minimum (and, where appropriate, maximum) flows to be maintained, including information on how these flows were determined;
- the sources of water to maintain flows and control mechanisms required to deliver this mitigation;
- the extent to which char use habitat in Camp Pond Brook;
- ways that the Project could affect this use and, if necessary, details of any additional mitigation measures proposed to ensure that no significant effects will occur; and
- an appropriate environmental effects monitoring program.
The Panel was not presented with evidence indicating that the habitat likely to be lost was particularly productive compared to other habitat in the region, or that it was an important harvesting location. However, because the public was unable to comment to the Panel on the results of the HADD process (that is, on what the compensation plan would deliver), the process should remain as open as possible.
The Panel recommends that DFO provide LIA, the Innu Nation and the general public with adequate opportunity to review and comment on the draft fish habitat compensation agreement.
Because HADD is determined and compensation is negotiated on the basis of predictions, the Panel asked whether compensation agreements were ever re-visited if environmental effects monitoring revealed unforeseen habitat loss. DFO agreed that this was theoretically possible, although it was unable to cite a precedent.
The Panel believes that the environmental effects monitoring program should assess how effectively mitigation measures have protected fish habitat. One of the purposes of this review should be to ensure that VBNC maintains minimum streamflows or takes corrective action.
The Panel certainly endorses the objectives embodied in the hierarchy of preferences laid out in DFO's habitat protection policy, but it has no way of evaluating how feasible it would be to mitigate residual effects by replacing habitat on site or near the site. The Panel does not consider financial compensation paid to DFO, such as that paid during the NWT BHP Diamonds Project, to be an acceptable alternative.
While it is clear that VBNC will require HADD authorizations if the Project is to proceed, the Panel, together with other presenters, is concerned about the possibility of continuing habitat loss or harmful alteration should VBNC be unable to maintain required flows. The Panel is not convinced that VBNC would be able to adequately mitigate new residual effects by replacing habitat. Therefore, the Panel believes that HADD authorizations should occur only once, at the start of the Project, and should be limited to HADD that is absolutely unavoidable. Thereafter, VBNC should be obligated to do whatever is required to protect all remaining habitat.
The Panel recommends that DFO indicate to VBNC that the Department will not accept subsequent requests for HADD authorizations for the proposed Project. In the overall environmental effects monitoring program outlined in its fish habitat protection report (see Recommendation 17), VBNC should include a monitoring component designed to validate the predicted effects of the Project on fish habitat and to assess the effectiveness of mitigation measures. If, at some later date, monitoring results indicate that flow alterations have destroyed or harmfully altered additional habitat, the onus should be placed on VBNC to restore that habitat as quickly as possible.
The Panel concludes that the environmental assessment would have proceeded more smoothly if the HADD determination process had been further advanced and if VBNC had been able to present a review of potential habitat compensation options. It appears that the dispute between DFO and VBNC concerning clear guidelines for habitat identification and classification was a major cause of delay.
The Panel recommends that DFO develop a proponent's guide to HADD identification and the development of fish habitat compensation options that clearly lays out the steps a proponent should take, the methods to be used and the criteria by which the proponent's work will be judged. DFO should complete the criteria for standing water and marine habitat as soon as possible and include them in the guide.
DFO is concerned about possible habitat loss in Camp Pond due to sedimentation resulting from airborne transportation of dust from the open pit and nearby roads. The Panel believes that every effort should be made to avoid a HADD authorization in Camp Pond, especially if such an authorization, followed by compensation, prompted VBNC to relax environmental protection efforts in Camp Pond, which is an important part of the overall Reid Brook system.
The Panel recommends that VBNC and DFO jointly review all potential sources and pathways of sedimentation, and currently proposed mitigation with respect to Camp Pond, to avoid or minimize sediment transport into the pond wherever possible, so that fish habitat loss does not occur.
An extensive blasting program will be carried out over many years. DFO expressed concern about the possible effects of blasting, including
- the effects of shock waves and vibrations on fish, fish eggs and larvae;
- the effects of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil blasting residues on receiving waters; and
- the effects of blasting on the groundwater regime and on the possible subsurface movement of contaminants.
VBNC has committed to monitoring blasting residues and to installing groundwater monitoring wells around the open pit.
The Panel was not presented with firm evidence that blasting would cause the rock to fracture more extensively than predicted, or that fish would be affected, given the distance between the pit and the nearest fish habitat. The Panel therefore believes that DFO's concerns should be further investigated during the process of developing the effects monitoring program to see whether additional monitoring is justified.
The Panel recommends that, as part of the environmental protection plan, VBNC develop blasting procedures that incorporate DFO's guidelines with respect to protecting fish and fish habitat.
8.4 Combined Project Effects on Reid Brook
Throughout the review process, participants expressed concern about the Project's combined effects on freshwater fish and habitat in the Reid Brook system, because that system will be the receiving environment for a number of emissions and alterations. In the Additional Information, VBNC summarized the combined effects of each stage of the Project on Reid Brook: flow reduction, blasting residues and sedimentation during construction; flow reduction and sedimentation during operations; and a much smaller flow reduction and release of sediment during decommissioning and post-decommissioning. Because each of these alterations is predicted to be quite small, VBNC concludes that the overall environmental effect will be negligible to minor.
DFO acknowledged VBNC's efforts to avoid impacts in Reid Brook, but concluded in its presentation to the Panel that, "When the totality of the project infrastructure is taken into account, it is difficult to accept that there will be no impact on the system or potential environmental effects." DFO did not provide an alternative hypothesis with respect to residual impacts, but it did indicate, without specific recommendations, that VBNC should apply all possible mitigation methods.
LIA recommended that VBNC assume that the combined effects on Reid Brook will be greater than those indicated by the prediction of individual effects, and opt for more stringent prevention or mitigation. LIA stated that "if we wait for environmental effects monitoring to show an effect it will be too late."
The Panel recognizes the sensitivity of the Reid Brook watershed, which arises from the area's productivity and its social and cultural significance. VBNC has, however, no choice but to mine the nickel deposit where it is located. The Panel has been impressed by VBNC's systematic efforts during the design of the Project to minimize effects on the Reid Brook system. The Panel has examined the arguments against using Headwater Pond to store tailings and has concluded that the disadvantages of this location are outweighed by its good containment potential, combined with the fact that drainage can be permanently diverted out of the Reid Brook watershed. Chapter 6 includes further discussion of the alternatives the Panel considered.
However, the Panel agrees with DFO that there is still a degree of uncertainty about the interactive effect of a number of different stressors. There is also a degree of uncertainty about predicted effects, given the nature of the Project's interaction with the Reid Brook system. The Project could reduce and alter subsurface and surface flow in many ways, produce airborne and waterborne particulate matter from many sources, and cause small or large spills in many different parts of the drainage area.
The Panel believes that this uncertainty is not so large, nor are the potential impacts so devastating, that the Project cannot be approved. But the Panel concludes that the precautionary approach so far demonstrated by VBNC should be extended. During the hearings, VBNC indicated its willingness to do so. Recommendations in chapters 5 and 6, dealing with various aspects of air quality and water management, address this issue.
In addition, the Panel believes that further avoidance and mitigation measures should be considered and summarized in a single document focusing on the Reid Brook watershed.
The Panel recommends that VBNC develop, as part of the Environmental Management System, an environmental protection plan for Reid Brook that incorporates the following, as required:
- adjustments to the main access road route and design to minimize potential impacts on Reid Brook;
- design and construction of appropriate stream crossings on tributaries;
- specific traffic management procedures at key locations along the road;
- seepage collection at the toe of Dam H2; and
- additional mitigation measures to improve the quality of water leaving Camp Pond, if necessary (for example, additional water retention or development of an engineered wetland).
8.5 Monitoring and Baseline Information
VBNC has committed to developing an environmental effects monitoring program to monitor cause and effect relationships between the Project and valued ecosystem components (VECs), based on the same criteria they used to rank the significance of effects on VECs. Three main issues were raised by DFO with respect to monitoring freshwater fish and fish habitat. In all three cases, DFO criticized the amount of baseline data collected. However, this criticism mainly related to the need for adequate information to support future monitoring rather than to concerns about the validity of predictions in the EIS.
VBNC sampled primary productivity and plankton and zooplankton biomass over two years to determine the primary productivity of seven representative ponds in the study area. DFO wanted VBNC to do more extensive sampling that would cover seasonal variations of abundance and to relate results to environmental variables, so that this extended baseline work could be used as the foundation of a monitoring program. The Department also recommended that VBNC model the Project's effects on some species of phytoplankton and zooplankton.
VBNC responded that phytoplankton species are poor indicators of environmental change precisely because of high natural temporal variability. It also stated that, by comparing predicted future water quality to established water quality guidelines which are based on chronic and acute effects, VBNC had addressed some aspects of the impact of the Project on primary productivity.
Similarly, DFO wanted to see more extensive baseline sampling of benthic macroinvertebrates to confirm estimates of diversity. It also wanted additional modelling for one or more representative species. VBNC indicated that it was aiming to describe biodiversity, species composition and relative abundance, rather than to carry out a definitive study of benthic macroinvertebrates in the area.
A number of intervenors stated that monitoring should focus as much or more on potential effects on the basic "building blocks" of the ecosystem as on effects on higher level species. The intuitive appeal of this approach is that the monitoring program could thereby deliver the earliest possible warning if things are going wrong. However, the Panel also appreciates the mining industry's concern that environmental effects monitoring must be practical and cost effective, and must link observed results with project-induced impacts.
The Canada Centre for Mineral and Energy Technology presented information to the Panel on the Aquatic Effects Technology Evaluation (AETE) program, a joint government-mining industry initiative to test potential instream methods for determining effluent impacts on resident biota. As this presentation indicated, "A major difficulty to standardization of biological monitoring techniques has been the large number of potential techniques available. Potential classes of organisms include fish, benthos, zooplankton, phytoplankton, macrophytes and bacteria. Potential levels of each class of organism include intracellular, tissue, organism, population and community levels."
The AETE program is structured on a four-step monitoring framework to determine the following.
- Are contaminants getting into the system, and at what exposure levels?
- Are contaminants bioavailable-in other words, are they accumulating in organisms?
- Is there a measurable response to these contaminants?
- Can the exposure, bioavailability and response be linked to identify the cause?
The results and recommendations of the program will probably form the basis of the new requirements for monitoring environmental effects to be incorporated into the revised Metal Mining Liquid Effluent Regulations.
The Panel understands that much of the current research on effects monitoring of various industry effluents, in both freshwater and marine water, has used benthic macroinvertebrates rather than plankton or algae. The Panel concludes that it is at present unclear whether monitoring at lower trophic levels is practical and whether such monitoring could discern effects that could be clearly attributed to the Project. However, monitoring should provide early warning of any food chain effects. The results and recommendations of the AETE program are likely to provide important guidance in this regard, although they may need to be adapted to reflect the northern Labrador situation.
The Panel recommends that VBNC develop monitoring studies for contaminant effects in freshwater with input from DFO, Environment Canada and other stakeholders, and consider the findings of the Aquatic Effects Technology Evaluation (AETE) program. To provide early warning of effects, serious consideration should be given to monitoring at least at the benthic macroinvertebrate level, if not at a lower trophic level, provided there is reasonable assurance that the program will be able to deliver clear cause and effect information that is scientifically valid. Additional baseline information need only be collected if required to support the selected monitoring component. VBNC should also offer to collaborate with any research carried out as a follow-up to the AETE program by providing monitoring information from the Project to be used as a case study.
When it came to monitoring possible effects on Arctic char, VBNC and DFO advocated different approaches. Both parties agreed that Kogluktokoluk and Ikadlivik brooks and Reid Brook operate to a certain extent as one system. VBNC's baseline monitoring has indicated that many char may spawn in Reid Brook but overwinter in Ikadlivik, possibly because of a shortage of overwintering habitat in Reid Brook and the difficulty of navigating the falls at the outlet of Reid Pond. A smaller percentage of char enter Reid Brook, but subsequently turn around and both spawn and overwinter in Ikadlivik.
From DFO's perspective, the Project is an intervention in a poorly understood aquatic ecosystem, and if VBNC is to validate its prediction that the Project will not significantly affect char in the Reid Brook system, it must at least monitor the population in Kogluktokoluk and Ikadlivik brooks as well. Effects on juvenile production in Reid Brook could affect habitat use in other parts of the system. Conversely, an adverse effect on numbers in Reid Brook could be masked if the population as a whole was increasing.
VBNC, on the other hand, proposes to focus on Reid Brook, on the pathways through which the Project could affect Reid Brook, on monitoring of early warning indicators to detect significant changes to char habitat and on mitigation of any such changes. VBNC says that comparing any population changes in Reid Brook to overall population numbers in the combined system will dilute the results.
The Panel sees merit in both approaches. On the one hand, the Panel agrees with VBNC that monitoring should be "simple, practical and achievable," and that it should serve as an early warning indicator to trigger action to prevent adverse impacts. This suggests that the effects monitoring should focus primarily on Reid Brook itself and its tributaries. On the other hand, the Panel appreciates DFO's concern about the implications of locating a mining project close to a productive but imperfectly understood river system. This suggests that DFO and VBNC should try to expand knowledge about the Arctic char that use the entire Kogluktokoluk-Ikadlivik-Reid system, incorporating Aboriginal knowledge in the process.
The Panel is not in a position to determine what types of studies should be carried out. This should be determined as part of a collaborative process that involves LIA and the Innu Nation as well.
The Panel believes that VBNC is responsible for monitoring effects in the Reid Brook system and that DFO is responsible for managing the wider Kogluktokoluk-Ikadlivik-Reid system. However, because the Project will considerably alter the Reid Brook watershed, the Panel believes that VBNC should contribute resources, which could include in-kind resources, to the wider monitoring effort.
If VBNC's effects monitoring in Reid Brook indicates a significant variation from predicted conditions, VBNC should be required, if necessary, to expand the scope of its monitoring to include other parts of the system.
The Panel recommends that VBNC carry out hydrometrical, water quality and fish population monitoring in the Reid Brook system; that DFO initiate appropriate studies to increase understanding of fish and fish habitat in the wider Kogluktokoluk-Ikadlivik-Reid system, involving LIA and the Innu Nation in this process; and that VBNC contribute significantly to these studies by providing information and other resources.
- 1 Introduction
- 2 The Project and Sustainable Development
- 3 Project Need and Resource Stewardship
- 4 Land Claims and Impact and Benefit Agreements
- 5 Air Quality
- 6 Tailings, Mine Rock and Site Water Management
- 7 Contaminants in the Environment
- 8 Freshwater Fish and Fish Habitat
- 9 Marine Environment: Land-Based Effects
- 10 Marine Environment: Shipping
- 11 Marine Mammals
- 12 Terrestrial Environment and Wildlife
- 13 Birds
- 14 Aboriginal Land Use and Historical Resources
- 15 Employment and Business
- 16 Family and Community Life, and Public Services
- 17 Environmental Management
- 18 Recommendations
- Appendix A: Panel Members
- Appendix B: List of Abbreviations and Acronyms
- Appendix C: Memorandum of Understanding
- Appendix D: Transcript of Proceedings
- Appendix E: Acknowledgements
- Date Modified: