Quantifying the effects of mining activities on the health of streams in the South Nahanni Watershed (NWT)
Principal Investigator: Scrimgeour, Garry J (3)
Licence Number: 14573
Organization: Parks Canada Agency
Licenced Year(s): 2009 2008 2007
Issued: Jul 18, 2009
Project Team: Dr. Monique Dubé (Co-researcher, University of Saskatchewan), Ms. Kathryn Thomas (Field assistant & Co-researcher , University of Waterloo), Ms. Dana Haggarty (Field assistant, Parks Canada Agency )

Objective(s): The objectives of the research are: (1) To quantify natural variability of benthic macroinvertebrate communities at reference sites un-impacted by human activity; (2) To determine whether mining activities degrade the health of streams in the South Nahanni Watershed; (3) To understand whether pigments in algal cells can be used to assess stream health.

Project Description: The researchers propose to address critical information gaps by embarking on a research project in the South Nahanni River Watershed. The objectives of the research are:
1) To quantify natural variability of benthic macroinvertebrate communities at reference sites un-impacted by human activity;
2) To determine whether mining activities degrade the health of streams in the South Nahanni Watershed;
3) To understand whether pigments in algal cells can be used to assess stream health.

This project has, and is, being conducted over a 2.5 year period with Year 1 of the field work completed in fall 2008 and the second and final year of field collections scheduled for completion in fall 2009. The natural, reference condition for water and macroinvertebrate communities will be determined in wadeable streams within the South Nahanni River Watershed, NWT. Two tributaries in the South Nahanni River watershed have mining activities with associated discharges. The Tungsten mine on the Flat River is actively mined and tailings disposed in an exfiltration tailings pond system. Canadian Zinc Corporation is involved in advanced exploration at the Prairie Creek site with a portal discharge into Prairie Creek.
In 2009 (i.e., Year 2 of the two year field study), the researchers are proposing to collect additional samples of water, benthic algae, and benthic macroinvertebrates from streams. The additional field season in 2009 is required as preliminary analyses of data collected in fall 2008 suggested that additional sampling is required to:
i) Better define zones of degradation due to mining activities;
ii) Fill data gaps related to defining chemical and biological characteristics of healthy (i.e., non-impacted) streams.

One member of the research team is from Fort Simpson and is an integral member of the project. Discussions are underway with staff at Nahanni National Park Reserve to utilize their knowledge of the area and involve them in the reconnaissance of potential stream sites and completion of the 2009 field season. The field crew is planning to base themselves at the Cantung and Prairie Creek mine sites. This provides opportunities for the research team to present an overview of the study to mine employees. In 2008, about 5 mine staff accompanied the field crews while they collected samples adjacent to each mine. The researchers will promote and support similar levels of interactions with mine staff in 2009. Both mines have also expressed formal interest in being involved with field collections especially at sites immediately adjacent to the mines. The research team would welcome their participation. As both mines have relationships with local communities, it may be that a community representative could accompany the field team on some sampling trips. Other possibilities for local involvement include an opportunity to participate in fieldwork and to gain formal training in field techniques related to water quality sampling, and the sampling of benthic algal and macroinvertebrate communities.

There is a significant need to better understand the natural variability of aquatic systems in Canada’s north considering the potential for development and the sensitivities of the aquatic systems. There is also a need to develop monitoring programs for the north so that changes can be detected and assessed relative to relevant objectives. This research project will quantify the effects of mining activities on the health of streams in the South Nahanni Watershed. They will complete this assessment by collecting and analyzing samples of stream water, benthic algae and benthic macroinvertebrates. The proposed work will assess potential changes in these components due to mining activities by establishing reference conditions compared to those resulting from mining. Results of the research will be used to make recommendations to customize northern monitoring programs currently required under the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations and the Canadian Environmental Effects Monitoring Program of the federal Fisheries Act. These recommendations will benefit local northern mines falling under these regulations. Results of this research will also provide valuable base line conditions that can be used to determine effects of:
i) Expansions in mining activities on stream health
ii) Closure and mine mediation on stream health.

These sources of information are crucial to evaluations of cumulative effect assessment and land use planning.

Project initiation meetings and review of the research study design with local communities and research partners (mining companies, Environment Canada, Parks Canada, Indian and Northern Affairs) will provide familiarity with the research at its onset as well as provide an opportunity for partner feedback. At the completion of Year 1 the field results will be compiled. Results will be presented to the partners at a progress meeting in a northern location (Yellowknife). A scientific publication will be prepared and submitted to the partners for comment. These results will also be communicated at one national and one northern scientific conference. Results may also form the basis of the EEM program for the Tungsten Mine and foundations for a cumulative effects assessment for Prairie Creek Mine. In addition, a layman’s summary of the research will be compiled and provided to communities.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from August 01 to September 30, 2009.

Twenty sites (10 at each of the two mine sites) exposed to mining will be located in the: i) Flat River immediately downstream of the Tungsten mine site (N61 58'06.5, W128 13'28.7), and ii) Prairie Creek immediately downstream of the Canadian Zinc mine site (N61 33'05.5, W124 47'32.8). By contrast, up to 30 reference sites will be located upstream of these mines and throughout the entire South Nahanni Watershed. Exact locations have not yet been determined however a map outlining approximate sampling sites sampled in 2008 and likely candidate sites for sampling in 2009 is available from the researcher.
Locations of reference sites will be determined based on their comparability to sites on Flat River and Prairie Creek, taking into account factors such as stream flow, stream dynamics, and distance from headwaters, using input from INAC, Environment Canada and Nahanni National Park Reserve based on their knowledge and previous studies in the area.
The ability to land a helicopter adjacent to the rivers will also influence the exact location of sampling sites.

Proposed sub-watersheds anticipated to be sampled in 2009 as part of the South Nahanni Watershed Study:
Exact sampling locations on each river will be determined based on the ability to land helicopters adjacent to each site. In the majority of cases two to three sites will be sampled in each river watershed. By contrast, approximately 10 sites will be sampled on each of the Flat River and Prairie Creek because these systems receive water from mining operations.
River sub-watershed Location
Jackfish River N 61 00 W 124 30
Meilleur River N 60 80 W 125 50
Caribou River N 61 10 W 126 20
McLeod Creek N 61 40 W 126 40
Fishtrap Creek N 61 30 W 123 90
Sundog Creek N 61 70 W 124 20
Corridor Creek N 61 90 W 124 90
Prairie Creek N 61 40 W 124 60
Wrigley Creek N 61 60 W 125 40
Flat River N 61 90 W 128 00
Pass Creek N 61 70 W 127 20
Rabbit Kettle River N 61 80 W 127 60
Flood Creek N 61 90 W 126 20
Bologna Creek N 62 20 W 128 10
Jorgenson Creek N 61 50 W 126 10
Black Wolf Creek N 62 60 W 127 20
Broken Skull River N 62 60 W 127 90

Base camp location(s):
Tungsten Mine N61 58'06.5, W128 13'28.7
Prairie Creek Exploration Camp N61 33'05.5, W124 47'32.833