Dead River Flowing

The Jordan River watershed is located on southern Vancouver Island, 

British Columbia, Canada and flows into the Salish Sea.


The objectives of the Dead River Flowing campaign are to raise awareness about the current condition of the Jordan River watershed, encourage support for restorative projects and provide up-to-date information on our progress to bring this once productive river back from the dead. 



Reduced water levels have impacted habitat and the ability of fish to access upper reaches of the river. High-energy water flows from power plant have destroyed gravel sites critical for spawning.


Original wetlands were filled with mine debris to create a log sort. Toxic leachate from woodwaste has seeped into river. Soil and ground water has been contaminated with metals and hydrocarbons.


Mine failure diverted the entire river flow into underground mine workings. Resulting blow-out dumped tonnes of debris into lower reaches of river. Copper contamination continues to seep into the river.

the Jordan river story

Pacheedaht and Ditidaht First Nations called the river Diitiida. For thousands of years, life-giving waters flowed from upland forests to nourish prestine riparian, estuarine and marine habitats. Terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems flourished and supported abundant runs of salmon, stealhead and searun cutthroat trout.

Since the late 1880s, natural resources obtained from the Jordan River watershed have provided the province of British Columbia significant economic and social benefits. The forest industry has completed multiple tree harvests, hydroelectric power has been generated since 1911 and over 13-million kilograms of copper and 200 kilograms of gold have been extracted.

Unfortunately, the combined environmental cost of these activities has also been substantial. In less than 100 years, the impact of hydro-electric power generation, tree-farming and metal extraction have completely destroyed precious habitat and killed the river's ability to support life.

Photo of the Jordan River  taken in the early 1970s.

Photo of the Jordan River taken in the early 1970s.

mining legacy - the cave-in

Mining for copper and gold started in the early 1990s with the discovery of mineralized rock along the banks of the Jordan River. In the mid-1950s, an underground processing mill and a 2 kilometre access tunnel were excavated into the mountain to support extraction and removal of the ore. The mine was in operation until 1977 and a total of 1.3 million tonnes of ore was mined and over 13 million kilograms of copper and 200 kilograms of gold were produced. 

Unfortunately historical events related to the mine’s activities continue to impact the health of the Jordan River. On December 5, 1963, a mined ore zone located directly under the river bed collapsed and the entire river began to flow into the mine, down the 2 kilometre access tunnel and out the main portal.  For 10 days the 3 metre by 3 metre tunnel flowed full and fast, pushing sand, gravel, ore, mill waste, timber and equipment out of the mine until a lower section of the tunnel caved-in and blocked the flow of water. 

On January 7, 1964, approximately 20 days after the tunnel was blocked, the flooded mine and tunnel exploded from a point 400 metres above the main access portal and caused an estimated 75,000 cubic metres of sand, gravel and mine material to be dumped into the lower reaches of the Jordan River.

This massive accumulation of debris significantly impacted the forestry company’s ability to boom and transport logs. A giant drag line bucket and several bulldozers were used to move the material into the adjacent marsh lands, converting this valuable wetland ecosystem into a permanent dry-land log sort.

Diverted by cave-in, the Jordan River flows out of mine portal (Times Colonist, December, 1963).

Diverted by cave-in, the Jordan River flows out of mine portal (Times Colonist, December, 1963).


Critical for Restoring Lost Habitat & Fish Survival

Historically, the lower reaches of the Jordan River were supplied by surface and ground water which originated from one of southern Vancouver Island's largest watersheds.  When the Jordan River hydroelectric project was completed in 1917, the original catchment area of over 140 square kilometres was reduced to less than 18 square kilometres. 

Upgraded in 1971, the power generating project continued to restrict inflows of water behind a series of dams and reservoirs. Water contained by the new Elliott Dam was diverted through to a 7 kilometre tunnel to a power plant located near the river’s outlet where the high-energy flows are then discharged back into the river. Extreme fluctuations in river water flows below the dam significantly decreased the quantity and quality of fish habitat. In addition, the location of the new power plant combined with operational requirements and short tailrace resulted in the destruction of spawning beds. The impact on the salmon was devastating and for the next 40 years coho, chum and pink salmon were no longer found in the river.

Recognizing that inadequate and inconsistent water levels were impacting fish survival; the 2003 Jordan River Water Use Plan (WOP) recommended a fish flow water release from Elliott Dam of 0.25 cubic metres per second. When introduced in early 2008, a faulty control valve became locked in full open position creating higher water releases that ranged from 0.3 to 0.4 cubic metres per second. The release of this water resulted in a dramatic improvement in aquatic habitat in the natural river channel immediately above the power plant and the return of a small number of salmon to the river.

In 2018, the Jordan River Water Use Plan is being reviewed and decisions will be made that could impact current fish flow water releases and the success of restoring the Jordan River. Please contact your MLA and insist the Jordan River Water Use Plan include adequate fish flow water releases that will support restoration of lost habitat and the ability of the Jordan River to sustain annual runs of salmon, steelhead and searun cutthroat trout.

Photo taken in 2015 immediately below the Elliott Dam located 7 kilometres from the outlet of the Jordan River. 

Water released from the dam's control valve provides a consistent flow of water that is critical for restoring lost habitat and the recovery of annual runs of salmon, steelhead and searun cutthroat trout.


In 1958 a 2 kilometre haul tunnel was driven into the mountain to provide access to the copper rich ore. The entrance, referred to as the 5100 portal, is located immediately adjacent to the Jordan River, approximately 1 kilometre upstream from the river mouth and 30 metres above sea level. 

Until 1977, the products of the mining operation were transported from deep within the mountain to the surface and out of the 5100 portal. Regrettably, the tunnel also became a conduit for the release of toxic metals into the Jordan River, a condition that has been ongoing since 1958 and is potentially harming salmon and other aquatic fish species.

Although there was evidence of metal contamination, the Inspector of Mines issued a letter in 1993 that stated “final reclamation carried out and found satisfactory” which allowed the operator to close the mine without any additional cleanup.

Site investigations conducted since the early 1990s have consistently reported highly toxic concentrations of metals in waters and soils associated with mine waste rock and tailings deposited near the 5100 portal. Copper values measured in waters draining the site have been reported at levels greater than 100x BC Water Quality Guidelines for freshwater aquatic life. 

Finally in 2014, the BC Ministry of Environment formally recognized that the site may be contaminated and may require remediation. A Preliminary Site Investigation was initiated by the current property owner and a legacy mine operator. The focus of the study is to identify and characterize the mine wastes at the site. Outcomes of the work are expected in late 2018.

Unfortunately there are no guarantees that the recommendations presented by the study will include the remediation of a contaminated site that has been leaching toxic metals into the river for 60 years.

Photo taken in early 1970s showing the mine tailings pond located directly beside the Jordan River.

Photo taken in early 1970s showing the mine tailings pond located directly beside the Jordan River.

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