Blog Post #25 – Proposed Mineral Exploration and Small Scale Placer Mining Regulatory Provisions: What do you think?

Historically, water use for prospecting did not require an authorization and over time mineral exploration and small scale placer mining were considered prospecting. This changed in 2016 with the narrow definition of prospecting under the Water Sustainability Act (WSA), and individuals undertaking these activities became subject to the requirement to obtain an authorization to use water.

In light of existing permitting requirements under the Mines Act¸ temporary rules were enacted to allow the use of unrecorded (available) water for mineral exploration and small scale placer mining activities without a WSA authorization, subject to new restrictions to protect the environment.

Government is now proposing to make those temporary provisions a permanent part of the regulations, and has released an intentions paper for public comment.

In addition to the existing restrictions to protect the environment, the proposed rules would provide an engineer or water manager with the authority to require an individual to obtain an authorization to use water in circumstances where there is a risk of significant adverse impact to the stream or to other authorized users.

Pending a public consultation period and government review and approval, the proposed provisions would be incorporated into regulation in 2019.

We invited you to share your thoughts about the intentions paper by leaving a comment below or sending an email to Comments were accepted October 9, 2018 until November 26, 2018 at 4:00 p.m.



    User avatar
    [-] Mike

    Good day, As a consultant doing multiple placer applications per year, I am strongly in favor of retaining the exemption for small scale placer operations. I believe the exemption in place now provides flexibility for the initial phases of placer mining while not overloading a project with cost and time constraints. One thing you might not be aware of, is that it is taking from six months to a year to get a water license issued. Some have taken longer than that on unallocated water. If you were to rescind this exception, you would put multiple more applications into the system for water use, and basically bring the water permitting process to a standstill. The placer permitting process takes 3- 4 months as it is, but if the proponent had to wait 6-12 just to use water for testing, it would be crippling.
    I would also like to speak to idea that the engineer or water manager might restrict use on certain streams if there is a risk of significant adverse impacts. I can see in theory this is prudent, but the implantation of this would also be crippling. If every exemption had to be reviewed by the water manager, it too would flood the system with requests and make it unmanageable for the proponent. The only thought I had about this, would be to have a list of critical streams that need approval. But these might just be seasonal, or a yearly situation, ie drought. This just adds another layer of approval, which in itself is ok, but if the system takes months to get approval, you will kill the industry. I don’t believe that the extraction of water for small scale placer is a negative impact to the environment, as the water is not removed from the system.
    What goes along with more regulation, is the responsibly of the government to provide the resources to provide timely responses to the permitting issues. As for the water branch, and I deal in 3 or 4 districts, the time lines for any permit applications are too excessive. I understand thats its mostly a staffing issue, but its still an issue.
    Respectfully submitted,

    User avatar
    [-] Fair

    British Columbians value clean water and healthy ecosystems for drinking, recreation and livelihoods. Yet water quality in BC has declined due to increased population, industrial development and climate change, all which increase pressure on this critical resource. The implementation of BC’s Water Sustainability Act (WSA) is an opportunity to ensure that our shared values are reflected in the governance of BC’s water resources.

    Currently, the Province is soliciting input on how mineral exploration and small-scale placer mining should be treated by the Water Sustainability Regulation under the WSA. In short, the government is proposing:

    A blanket exemption for all mineral exploration from the requirement to obtain a WSA water authorization; and

    A similar blanket exemption for all small-scale placer mining activities with annual paydirt production volumes below 2000 cubic metres of paydirt production (almost enough material to fill an olympic-size swimming pool).

    Under these proposed exemptions, the only placer or exploration activities requiring a WSA water authorization would be placer operations that produce over the 2000 cubic meters of paydirt threshold annually. As there is no clear magnitude threshold for “mineral exploration activity” in the definitions under the Water Sustainability Act, the Mines Act, the Code, the Mineral Tenure Act, or attendant regulations, this proposed approach would exempt even the largest mining exploration projects from the WSA water authorization requirement. Further, the placer threshold of 2000 cubic meters of paydirt production appears to be arbitrary, high, and vulnerable to project-splitting avoidance techniques that have caused problems in other industries (e.g. borrow pits and water impoundments for natural gas fracking operations). In contrast, in the Yukon, placer activities with proposed production of more than 400 cubic metres of paydirt annually require an environmental assessment.

    Water Sustainability Act water authorizations are important for ensuring that our shared water resources are protected. For example, under section 15 of the Act, decision makers must consider the “environmental flow needs” of a stream when deciding on an application for authorization. However, if the activity is exempted from the requirement to secure a WSA water authorization, then environmental flow needs may not be considered at all. If all mineral exploration and small-scale placer mines are exempted from being required to have a WSA water authorization, then water withdrawals may continue to occur even if critical environmental flow needs are not being met. This is a serious concern as climate change-induced drought reduces available water.

    Whether a WSA water authorization is required for a proposed exploration or placer activity should depend on the actual potential impacts to water, considered in the context of the density and intensity of similar activities within the watershed. The question of whether exploration or placer activities should require a water authorization should depend on, at a minimum:

    The actual amount of proposed water use. For example, in the Yukon a “Type B” Water License is required for placer mines using 300 or more cubic meters of water per day;

    Whether proposed water withdrawals threaten the environmental flow needs of a stream;
    Cumulative water use across multiple operations – for example, via a trigger that takes into account the environmental flow needs of the stream and number of operations along the stream;

    The nature of any proposed diversion of water, watercourse crossing, channel or bank alterations, flood control, alteration of flow and deposit of waste (which are also all triggers used for Yukon Water Licenses); and

    Whether the operation proposes to use toxic or non-biodegradable drill fluids (while their use is currently discouraged in BC’s Handbook for Mineral and Coal Exploration, it is not prohibited. Proposed use of these harmful substances s should trigger the requirement for a Water Authorization.

    The Province’s intentions paper suggests that, despite the proposed blanket exemptions from WSA water authorization requirements, “in circumstances where there is otherwise a risk of significant adverse impact to the stream” engineers or water managers can exercise their discretion to still require an authorization. If this discretionary ability to require a water authorization is intended to protect First Nations’ interests and environmental values, then others should be afforded this power as well, including:

    Indigenous governments;

    Registered biologists and hydrogeologists; and

    Mines Inspectors.

    The intentions paper also suggests that the risks created by these exemptions from WSA water authorization requirements are mitigated by other regulatory requirements, including that operators “must ensure that the diversion or use of water does not cause a risk of significant harm to fish, wildlife or the aquatic ecosystem of a stream.” However, many miners lack the skills and knowledge to assess specific risks to aquatic ecosystems and water quality associated with their activities. Further, inspection rates for placer mining and mineral exploration activities are dangerously low – a conclusion that is consistent with the Auditor General’s 2016 report regarding compliance and enforcement for mining activities in BC. In the words of the AG, “almost every one of our expectations for a robust compliance and enforcement program within the MEM and the MoE were not met.” Given the existing deficiencies in government oversight and enforcement, the public cannot trust that this proposed approach is sufficient to protect water resources and to justify exemptions from the Water Sustainability Act requirement for water authorizations.

    In conclusion, the proposed approach appears out of keeping with the legislative intent of the Water Sustainability Act: “to ensure a sustainable supply of fresh, clean water that meets the needs of B.C. residents today and in the future.” Mineral exploration and placer mining activities producing up to 2000 cubic metres of paydirt annually can cause significant damage to water quality and riparian ecosystems, especially when there are multiple operations within a single watershed. In the context of inadequate monitoring and oversight, the voluntary good behaviour of miners is an insufficient guarantee of water protection to justify blanket exemptions from WSA water authorization requirements for these activities.

    User avatar
    [-] Gary

    The use of water from these creeks and streams is imperative to the survival of placer miners. Done properly with no effect to the environment. It is imperative to the survival of an industry with great historical significance.

    User avatar
    [-] Rob

    I do have a problem with the wording provided in the intention paper as as quoted ” Placer material refers to deposits of sand or gravel in the bed of a river or lake, containing particles of valuable minerals.”.
    Placer material is Alluvial material. It can be found on dry land where old ancient lakes and rivers used to be a million years ago. Not to forget that old glacial debris is also alluvial. These are beds of gravel and dirt, not hard rock. The way that placer material is portrayed in the above quote suggests that placer material is now by definition confined to existing rivers, creeks and streams, and lakes. Is the government trying to deliberately change the meaning of alluvial material and therefor trying to limit the scope of placer mineral exploration and placer mine development.

    User avatar
    [-] Rob

    The problem I see with making the proposed exemptions permanent is the the lack of reporting or tracking of that water use for mineral exploration or small scale placer mining.
    If the limits and conditions in the regulation are NOT followed the water managers have no means of tracking these water users even though they would have the authority to require persons to obtain an authorization if they consider diversion or use of water may have a significant adverse impacts.

    Protecting small first order streams and small wetlands are the key to healthy watersheds and receiving waters so it is important to be able to identify a risk to these streams for public scrutiny and to take enforcement actions as needed.

    An authorization for these uses does not have to be onerous or expensive if the application and tracking is implemented correctly. Tracking and monitoring the location and scope of exploration/placer water use is very important. I think these water use situations cannot be ignored because they are considered “not that significant” – they can be very significant if best practices are not followed.

    User avatar
    [-] Reed

    Make the temporary restrictions on water use for mineral exploration and small-scale placer mines permanent. Mining operations should continue to be required to seek authorization to use water –
    any water – during prospecting operations. With or without drought.

    User avatar
    [-] Jill

    I am 100% in agreement with the proposed modification to the WSA.
    The volume of water used for these activities is small & returns quite rapidly to the ecosystem. Given the small volumes utilized, the value back to the Crown for water fees, when weighed against Gov’t administrative costs, is negligible.
    Additionally, water use authorizations issued under the WSA require defining a point of diversion & are not set up to handle multiple points of diversion, which are often modified in the field, which is what is required for most mineral exploration projects.
    It also makes no sense to have 2 regulatory agencies overseeing the activity, as this is a significant waste of Gov’t resources particularly given the cost of conducting field inspections in remote areas. Mine inspectors conduct regular inspections of mines, including water use systems. To have a Water Officer inspecting the same site is redundant & expensive.

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