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U.S., Canada, and Tribal Nations requesting IJC input on trans-boundary water pollution issue

Elkview Mine
Posted at 5:14 PM, Mar 11, 2024

PABLO — The United States and Canada have now agreed to work with them to address the pollution coming from British Columbia into Montana after missing an initial end-of-summer deadline set by Tribal Nations.

Teck Resources Limited operates five open-pit coal mines in British Columbia's Elk River Valley.

The mining operations have been sending pollutants like selenium downstream into Montana and Idaho.

Fording Mine
An aerial view of the Fording Mine British Columbia's Elk River Valley.

Lake Koocanusa near Eureka is over the permitted level of selenium. When selenium levels run high, fish reproduction is impacted. From this, subsistence farming is hurt.

The U.S., Canada, and Indigenous tribes will now submit a joint reference to the International Joint Commission (IJC) — the governing body for trans-boundary water disputes.

In this request, the groups are looking for studies to be done on the water and recommendations to mitigate the pollution from the mines.

Tribal Nations see invoking the IJC as a first step and want future work to be done in a collaborative and transparent manner.

In a statement, officials with the U.S. and Canada write the two countries are committed to a collaborative, scientific, and Indigenous knowledge-based path forward.

These actions respond to partner interests in:
  1. Gaining a common understanding of pollutants of concern within the Elk-Kootenai/y watershed;
  2. Establishing mechanisms supporting transboundary data, information, and Indigenous knowledge sharing, science and monitoring, assessments of aquatic ecosystem health, and transparent progress reporting; and
  3. Understanding and taking steps to reduce and mitigate the impacts of pollution.
Complementing additional efforts currently underway throughout the Elk-Kootenai/y watershed, and together with the IJC and our partners in the region, Canada and the United States welcome the opportunity to further our collaboration on this important work.
Joint Statement from the Ambassador of the United States to Canada, David L. Cohen, and the Ambassador of Canada to the United States, Kirsten Hillman

The IJC request asks for a formal governing plan, including a governing body comprised of governments with jurisdiction and legal obligations in the watershed, for the future of the issue by the end of June. Read more here.