Alive and Thriving: Reclamation Success at Balmer Lake

Mar 8, 2016 2:00 PM ET

In today’s installment of our Get To Know Us Better multi-part series we share with you how no challenge is ever too fishy to overcome when you’ve got the right team.

When Goldcorp acquired Red Lake Gold Mines in the 1990s, it also inherited an environmental challenge at neighbouring Balmer Lake.

As early as 1948, historical mining practices began to take their toll on the health of Balmer Lake. The lake lies adjacent to Red Lake mine’s tailings management area, and for decades, mining effluents ended up in its water. By the 1970’s, elevated levels of metals, nutrients and cyanide in the water and sediment had effectively eliminated aquatic life.

“At the time, these damaging practices were common,” says James Russell, Red Lake’s Sustainability Manager. “Today, we strive through science and innovation to minimize the effect of our mining operations and work to reclaim areas that have been impacted in past years.”

Before Goldcorp’s reclamation efforts began, the situation was bleak. Dave Gelderland, Red Lake’s Process & Tailings Manager says, “The initial environmental studies of Balmer Lake prior to reclamation efforts revealed a barren body of water devoid of life.”

Gelderland has been with Goldcorp since the 1990s, and is a long-standing member of the team that worked to restore the lake. Within the first few years, he says, “We began to see tangible improvement in the water quality.”

By 1996, small fish species were naturally re-colonizing. By 2000, the larger white sucker had returned.

Monitoring and rehabilitation work continued, water treatment plants were upgraded, and the lake was stocked with walleye. Gradually, a layer of organic matter developed over the tailings sediment, which helped reduce the concentration of metals in the water, to the point where the water from Balmer Lake was allowed to flow naturally into the surrounding watershed.

The most recent studies have shown the positive results of decades of rehabilitation efforts. Gelderland adds, “We now have self-sustaining populations of walleye and northern pike in Balmer Lake, something many would have not thought possible back in the 1980s. It truly is a success story, worth the many years of work that has gone into the project and something that everyone at Red Lake Gold Mines and Goldcorp should be proud of.”

In September 2014, the Red Lake Environmental Team held the first ever Balmer Lake Invitational Fishing Derby with a “catch and release” angle. In total, 30 fish were caught, measured, photographed and released, providing new scientific information towards ongoing reclamation.

This story and many others that demonstrate Goldcorp’s commitment to our vision of Together, Creating Sustainable Value is from our Above Magazine. Click here for Issue 11, 2015/2016.