Britannia Creek, south of Squamish, has tied for top spot on the Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C.s Most Endangered Rivers list of 2001.
The creek, which flows into Howe Sound from the site of what was once the largest copper mine in Canada, shares the dubious number one rating with the Upper Pine River in northern B.C. The Upper Pine was hit by a million litre oil spill from an ageing pipeline last summer.
"This years Endangered Rivers List highlights two rivers with acute impacts from industrial sources," says Mark Angelo, Chair of the Outdoor Recreation Council and the Endangered Rivers Committee. "The oil spill in the Upper Pine and the mine waste in Britannia Creek are important examples of how industrial pollution can devastate waterways, and there are lessons to be learned from each of these rivers."
The mine near Britannia Creek closed in 1974 after 70 years in operation. It left a 160 kilometre network of tunnels and five open pits where rocks release acid into ground water and dissolve metals contained in the surrounding rock and soil.
The toxic run-off has killed marine life in the lower river and has caused a massive dead zone in Howe Sound. Britannia Creek is now the worst point source of metals pollution in North America.
A clean-up plan for the area, costing between $10 million and $20 million, was approved by the province last year. It suggests that the old mine pits should become landfill sites where contaminated soil containing low levels of metals will be deposited to reduce the amount of acid rock drainage. The landfill operation would also help to pay for a water treatment plant within the mine. But start-up funding for the scheme has not materialized and the provincial government is pursuing companies formerly involved in the mining operation to contribute towards the clean-up.
The endangered rivers list is compiled every year from the opinions of river experts and enthusiasts across B.C. and members of the Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C.
Other rivers which made the lists top five are the Okanagan River, the Coquitlam River, the Fraser River and the South Coast steelhead streams on eastern Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland.