A Brighter Future for Britannia
One of FBC’s earliest sustainability stories is about people coming together for the remediation of Britannia Mine, a notoriously polluted site on BC’s Sea to Sky Highway, halfway between Vancouver and Whistler.
Britannia Mine was once described as the largest single point source metal contamination problem in North America. Britannia operated as a copper mine from 1902 to 1974 when it was closed. The mine site discharged large volumes of acidic water containing copper, zinc and cadmium throughout 70 years of operation and for decades to follow. The acid rock drainage had contaminated the water, soil and sediments in the area, and devastated marine life in Howe Sound. The situation was intolerable, and was a substantial barrier to economic and social development for the community of Britannia Beach.
The Fraser Basin Council entered the picture in 1998 to assist as a catalyst and facilitator, at the invitation of government agencies, a landowner and local residents. FBC set tables for dialogue that involved government, private sector bodies, and the community. The aim was to build a common understanding of the issue, a commitment to collaborative action, and a way forward on site remediation.
Progress was made, thanks to hard work and negotiations between the Province and past owners/operators of the mine, and an unwavering commitment of community members. The Province ultimately reached a settlement with the past owners/operators to help fund a water treatment facility, which was operational by late 2005.
The turn-around at Britannia has involved several steps to date — installation of an interim concrete plug by UBC to divert polluted water from a tributary to Britannia Creek, treatment of the wastewater at the new plant, and improved groundwater management. Britannia Beach is now transforming into a vital, healthy community. Pink salmon were spotted once again Howe Sound and Britannia Creek in 2011 — something hardly imaginable a decade ago and a testament to the resilience of nature when past wrongs are set right.