Snap Lake mine could close if dissolved solid limit not raised: De Beers – by Guy Quenneville (CBC News North – March 13, 2015)

Company asking Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board to nearly triple limit

De Beers Canada says some recommendations for how to tackle a groundwater problem at its Snap Lake diamond mine could, if implemented, result in the mine closing down early — a move that would put 300 N.W.T. residents out of work.

De Beers has encountered higher than expected volumes of total dissolved solids (TDS) — including mineral salts — in water leaking through the inner walls of the underground mine, located 220 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife.

The company treats that water and releases it back into the lake. But to avoid going over the acceptable level of TDS for the lake, the company has also been storing TDS-high water underground since June 2014. De Beers is asking the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board to nearly triple the highest allowed level of TDS in Snap Lake to 1,000 milligrams per litre.

“Snap Lake mine cannot continue to operate if a level of [total dissolved solids] is set that is not sustainable,” said Glen Koropchuk, De Beers Canada’s chief operating officer.

Koropchuk said De Beers has already spent $20 million to capture and release TDS-high water at Snap Lake. It’s one of several unanticipated issues Koropchuk says De Beers has faced at Snap Lake since the mine opened in 2008.

“In its seven years of operation, Snap Lake has not turned a profit,” he said. “Members of our [impact benefit agreement] communities will know that because we have not been able to make profit-related payments to this date.”

Differing opinions

The company says that, under a TDS level of 1,000 milligrams per litre, fish and water from the lake will still be safe to consume.

But aboriginal groups and the territorial government say that level goes too far.

“We want to ensure that we can still continue to use Snap Lake once the mine is gone,” said Ed Sangris, the chief of Dettah.

Koropchuk says the drinking quality of Snap Lake water will return to “acceptable levels” four to seven years after Snap Lake closes in 2028.

James Marlowe, a resident of Lutsel K’e and a member of the Snap Lake Environmental Monitoring Agency, is still skeptical, though.

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