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Flow from breached B.C. tailings pond in Cariboo region reduced: province

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Contents from a tailings pond is pictured going down the Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake near the town of Likely, B.C. Tuesday, August, 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

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Contents from a tailings pond is pictured going down the Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake near the town of Likely, B.C. Tuesday, August, 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

LIKELY, B.C. - Government said there has been a dramatic drop in the amount of material leaking from a breached tailings pond that contaminated waterways in the province's Cariboo region.

Millions of cubic metres of waste water and silt have leaked into lakes, creeks and rivers surrounding the Mount Polley mine, near the town of Likely, since Monday.

Mines Minister Bill Bennett said the leak can no longer be seen from the air.

"There's very little coming out right now," said Bennett. "It drains in a matter of seconds."

But he also said the nearby Hazeltine Creek, which received much of the discharged waste, is still 45 metres wide in some areas up from its original width of one metre.

The government says Imperial Mines Corp. (TSX:III), the company that owns the breached tailings pond, is creating a temporary dam to try to stop the leak.

Imperial Metals has said it could take three weeks to build a berm to halt the further spillage of water and debris from the tailings pond.

Public showers have been delivered to residents of Likely, who were affected by a water-use ban that lasted for days after the accident.

The ban has now been partially lifted, affecting most of the town and parts of the Quesnel River.

The advisory remains in place for communities that get their water from Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek, Cariboo Creek and all parts of Quesnel Lake.

Initial tests from the province's environment ministry suggest water in some parts of the area is drinkable.

The newest round of tests show water samples taken from Polley Lake on Aug. 7 is very close to "historical levels" before the tailings pond breached, the government said.

More testing will be done before a water-use ban for the lake is lifted.

But some residents are still skeptical about the water quality.

Howard Fenton, who retired in Likely eight years ago, said he is still concerned about safety, though the water appears to be clear.

"It looks OK, but I wouldn't drink it," he said in an interview. "I'd wait for more tests. I don't want to have anything to do with the water until I know for sure what's going on."

The area around Likely was one of the only places where he could both drink and swim in the water, but that is no longer the case, Fenton said.

He said he would not consider eating fish caught from the waterways for the immediate future.

"Not a chance," said Fenton. "The biologists have told us the fish in a week or so living in the water aren't going to show significant signs of contamination, it has to build up in their system and tissue before you can actually tell what it's doing to the fish."

Tests are being done on one dead fish recovered to determine what caused its death, said Jennifer McGuire, an environment ministry official

"That is the only dead fish that has been brought to the attention of the ministry and that we have collected," she said.

Environment Minister Mary Polak said the province has heard of other reports of dead fish.

"We are aware people have been anecdotally been talking about dead fish and there have been photographs," said Polak. "In spite of our active efforts to receive those fish that they are speaking of, this is the only one that we've received."

The province is also collecting live fish and will be testing them for toxins.

The release of 10 million cubic metres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of silt has raised fears about the potential long-term effect on drinking water, fish stocks and the region's ecosystem.

-By Steven Chua in Vancouver

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