Gone are the days when the provincial government billed Britannia as the number one source of acid rock drainage in the province.
A recently released report makes it clear that from an environmental perspective the former mining community is a much-changed place.
The 2012 biennial report from the Crown Contaminated Site Program provides updates on contaminated sites the provincial government has been working to clean up since 2003 — including the Britannia area.
A water treatment plant built in Britannia a decade ago is credited with significantly reducing the amount of acidic water flowing out of Britannia Creek, the report states.
"Fish have come back to Britannia Creek and a host of other marine plants and animals now inhabit this previously barren stretch of shoreline in Howe Sound," wrote minister Steve Thomson in the document.
John Buchanan, a concerned environmentalist who keeps a close eye on wildlife and aquatic life in the Squamish area, said he was the first to discover a key indicator of Britannia Creek's recovery.
He recently discovered pink salmon and steelhead in the creek.
While Buchanan is happy with the progress he has concerns for the future.
He said a proposed run-of-river project (IPP) for Britannia Creek worries him along with the amount of copper outfall that isn't being captured and sent through the water treatment plant in Britannia.
"Levels are still very high I think during high run off," Buchanan said of the amount of metal finding its way into Howe Sound via Britannia Creek during rainy periods. "There's always room for improvement and it is a bit worrisome right now that the IPP proposal is in there as well."
Buchanan said the creek is still recovering.
"Nothing was living in that creek at all so now things are starting to rebound," he said. "We're just getting out of the starting gate as far as recovery goes."
Buchanan said the new life in Britannia Creek is consistent with other positive signs he has seen recently in Howe Sound. He pointed out that dolphins and whales have been seen in the sound and the most recent herring spawn along the eastern shore between Woodfibre and Squamish has produced a significant amount of roe.
According to the provincial contaminated sites report, the province started environmental remediation work at Britannia Mine in 2001 after a financial settlement was reached with the former mine operators. Former operators contributed $30 million toward the cleanup cost and the province kicked in another $45.9 million. The Crown Contaminated Sites Program continues to monitor the situation at Britannia with ongoing responsibility for investigation and remediation at the site. So far, the province has spent more than $46 million on remediation at Britannia.
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