The web was recently awash in the flood of news about the failure of a “bauxite mine tailings dam burst” in Brazilian. Seems heavy rains were the immediate cause. The 30-m, i.e., 90-ft high dam gave way and water and mud rushed out. There is no excuse for the failure of a dam. There is equally well no excuse for the failure of the mining press and others to report that it was a water impoundment that failed—it was not a tailings dam.

The press makes much of the fact that water had to be trucked in to supply the residents affected by the dam failure. Read the reports and you believe it is because the river was polluted by the mining-related contaminants. In fact the dam and its water were gone, and thus the water the residents would normally drink was also gone. All gone in a muddy flow down the river. And the mine that owned the dam? They mined bauxite for use in water purifiers. So now regardless, no purification of the gone-water.

Two months ago in Vancouver we had to buy bottled water because the water supply was affected by huge gobs of mud that slide into the reservoir when slopes failed as a result of heavy rain. My friend, who works for the Red Cross, was delighted to have a disaster so close to home and fussed for days collecting plastic bottles of water from Wal-Mart and distributing them to the homeless—I wonder if they recycled the plastic?. She has never been happier, and now she will shop at Wal-Mart and does not have to go to the Bay, that dowager of a Canadian store.

But the news of polluted water in Vancouver, and emergency distribution of supplies to the homeless made no news—certainly not on the scale of the Brazilian case. Is this because there was no mine nearby? If this is true, we have an example of gross bias. OK maybe in Brazil a big dam failed and that is news to geotechnical and hydraulic engineers. Maybe the 1,000 flood was exceeded and the dam was design to fail at that level of stress.

What got me was the swiftness and speed with which the governing authorities in Brazil moved to shut down the mine. What they should have done is fire the regulators who allowed the existence of such big water dams to go unsupervised. That is the crime. But politicians are good at blaming everybody but themselves and their government employees. Again, whatever the differences between Brazil and Vancouver (and thankfully there are many) the News got the technical part wrong and they got the political part wrong. Is it any wonder the anti-mining bloggers are having a field day with this one. My sympathy is with them, even though my empathy is not.