History of Tailings Dam Design, Innovation, and Practice Changes Required in the Wake of the Mount Polley Mine Tailings Breach

The design of tailings dams has evolved over the last 100 years, with major advances occurring in British Columbia since the 1960’s when dam engineering technology was applied to their construction. Since that time, tailings technologies and tailings dam designs have continued to be advanced. However, in parallel with these advances, there have been complexities associated with many factors, including: increased consideration of environmental protection and long term sustainability; increases in mining rates; and, continued variability in types of tailings and the physiographic, environmental, and social settings that mines are constructed in. This paper describes the history of tailings dam design and construction, with emphasis on British Columbia. The investigations into the circumstances surrounding the failure of the Mount Polley tailings dam highlighted that practices in design, construction, and operation are highly variable and that ongoing innovation and adherence to good practice are required to reduce the risk to the public and the environment. Knowledge and application of Best Available Technologies (BAT) and Best Available Practices (BAP) are not as widely disseminated in the industry as they should be and practice improvement in the wake of Mount Polley will improve the state of tailings dam safety in British Columbia.

McLeod, Harvey N. 2016. “History of Tailings Dam Design, Innovation, and Practice Changes Required in the Wake of the Mount Polley Mine Tailings Breach,” in: GeoVancouver 2016: 69th Canadian Geotechnical Conference, Vancouver, BC, October 2-5, 2016. Canadian Geotechnical Society.

If you are interested in obtaining this publication, please email library@klohn.com. We may be able to provide you with a copy, depending on copyright restrictions. For more papers visit the technical publications page.