Water issues central to Ajax proposal

Robert Koopmans / Kamloops Daily News
July 30, 2011 01:00 AM

Jacko Lake is a 'unique local treasure,' says retired fisheries biologist Brian Chan.

Jacko Lake is a "gold mine" of its own, says a local fishing guide and biologist.

Situated just outside City limits, Brian Chan said the lake is one of the most popular sport fishing destinations in our region thanks, in part, to the fact it is one of the first to come ice-free in the spring.

On a busy day in April, it's possible to count 35 boats on the 40-hectare lake, he said. The fishing continues through the summer and well into the fall as die-hard anglers play chicken with winter well into November.

"It's funny to say, but it's a gold mine that lake. It's a very unique local treasure," said Chan, who retired as the area's small lakes fisheries biologist a few years ago.

He worries the character and quality of the lake will be lost if KGHM Ajax Mining Inc. gets approval to dig a 450-metre deep pit on the very edge of the grassland basin. Even if the lake does not drain away, the quality of the experience could be dramatically affected.

"Esthetically, it's not going to be a pleasant place to fish; a charge will go off, you will go out of your boat," he said, adding the lake will be central to a great deal of industrial activity and noise.

Chan said blasting will also affect Jacko's fish.

"We know there will be a considerable amount of blasting, and when they blast in the pit, that lake is going to rock. The fish will not be happy, it will impact the feeding behaviour of the trout."

Jacko Lake generates between 7,000 and 10,000 angler days of fishing a year, he said. Government studies have shown one angler day generates about $100 worth of economic activity, in gear sales and all the expenses associated with fishing. That means Jacko Lake is worth as much as $1 million a year to the B.C. economy.

Losing Jacko Lake as a sport fishery is a big price to pay, Chan suggested.

Jacko Lake is a natural lake that has been raised artificially a couple of times in the past century to provide water for irrigation. It was stocked in the 1950s, and has been popular with Kamloops anglers since.

In 1985, the last time the dam was rebuilt, the Ministry of Environment obtained a water licence in order to maintain the lake at a level optimal for fish.

The remainder of the water licences are held by users on Peterson and Cherry creeks, which flow from Jacko Lake. The loss of water from Jacko Lake - in any amount - could impact humans as well as fish.

Chan said if the mine goes ahead and Jacko Lake is compromised in any way, the mine should be made to replace it with a comparable lake elsewhere.

"If the esthetics of fishing (degrades) or the lake leaks, (Jacko) certainly can be replaced, the technology is there," Chan said.

At the least, the mine should be required to create a fund to be used to improve recreational outdoor opportunities in the region, in the same way Highland Valley Copper did in its area.

"They can mitigate or compensate for the loss of recreational fishing values," Chan said.

There is another issue related to the KGHM Ajax proposal and fresh water - where will the water needed for mine processes come from?

The company has said it will draw its water - specific volumes have not yet been detailed - from Kamloops Lake. A pre-existing pump and pipe system will be used, although it may need to be upgraded. The water is needed to process the ore as well as for other uses including dust and fire suppression on the site.

Former Highland Valley Cooper environmental manager Bob Hamaguchi said a mine like this could use as much as 40,000 gallons of water a minute in the ore processing and other systems, likely a mix of new and recycled water.

"How much water will they use, and how much will they recycle? And how will they handle the water on the property?" he asked. "It could be environmentally doable, but you will have to pay a lot of attention to all these matters."

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