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Ktunaxa in high-level talks with federal agencies on mining pollution

June 20, 2022

Representatives from the Department of State, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Geological Survey met in Bonners Ferry June 7 with council members representing the governments of the six bands of the Ktunaxa Nation to discuss addressing from coal mining in British Columbia that affects the United States and Canada.

The meeting came as as Canada’s Teck Resources Limited develops plans to expand its footprint by building new mines in the Elk River Valley, which flows into the Kootenay/Kootenai River and forms the Lake Koocanusa Reservoir at the international border separating Montana from British Columbia.

The watershed has been adversely impacted by selenium, an element with similarities to arsenic, that leaches from several open-pit coal mines and into the rivers, poisoning fish and other aquatic life.

"We write you today to alert you to a concern that is covered by Article IV of the Boundary Waters Treaty that is causing increasing conflict between interested parties and rights holders on both sides of our shared border," International Joint Commission officials wrote in a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau May 13. "This issue is selenium contamination of the Elk River, Lake Koocanusa, and the Kootenai River. The Elk River rises in Canada and flows into the United States at Lake Koocanusa, an impoundment of the Kootenai River which flows through the States of Montana and Idaho, in route back to the Province of British Columbia. Article IV of the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 explicitly states: 'It is further agreed that the waters herein defined as boundary waters and waters flowing across the boundary shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other.'"

The selenium contamination, first identified more than three decades ago, has continued to worsen, with no significant binational cooperation to protect the water or aquatic and human life.

The standard for dissolved selenium concentration established by the States of Idaho and Montana, and approved by the U.S. EPA, is 0.8 ug/L. Measurements of selenium have reached 9.46 ug/L in the Elk River, 4.99 ug/L in Lake Koocanusa, and 1.4 ug/L in the Kootenai River.

The meeting underscored the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to strengthening Nation-to-Nation relationships by listening to Tribal priorities and respecting Tribal sovereignty.

During the meeting, the Department reaffirmed the Administration’s support for a joint reference to the International Joint Commission under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 for the Kootenai Basin regarding the transboundary impacts of mining.

A joint reference would respond to the need for impartial recommendations and transparent communication, build trust and forge a common understanding of this issue among local, indigenous, state, provincial and federal governments as well as stakeholders and the public in both countries.

Questions or Comments? Send us an email!

Mike Weland, Publisher

6931 Main St.
P.O. Box 1625
Bonners Ferry, ID 83805
(208) 295-1016

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