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Wildsight welcomes Elk Valley water pollution inquiry

March 12th, 2024

Wildsight celebrates the announcement of an International Joint Commission (IJC) investigation into water pollution from British Columbia’s Elk Valley coal mines as the first step towards addressing a complex problem with transparency, trust and respect for Indigenous peoples.

“For the communities that call the Kootenay/Kootenai watershed home, and the environments within it, this investigation could not have come soon enough,” says Casey Brennan, Conservation Director at Wildsight, a Kootenay-based environmental organization.

“With selenium concentrations at record-high levels, the time for action and open dialogue is now. We hope that through the IJC’s impartial lens, information can be collected and recommendations swiftly made to protect the watershed, and its current and future inhabitants, from the worst water pollution impacts to come.”

Teck’s Elk Valley coal mines are leaching selenium and other contaminants into creeks and waterways that flow through communities such as Fernie, into the transboundary Lake Koocanusa reservoir, and through Montana and Idaho in the Kootenay River. These mines have also caused significant and lasting impacts to the environment which must be remediated.

As Teck’s Elk Valley mining operations have grown in recent decades, so too have selenium concentrations and loading. The Transboundary Ktunaxa Nation, together with local residents and community organizations, has repeatedly called for this investigation, yet until recently, British Columbia and Canada have avoided the problem. Now, both governments have an opportunity to restore the faith of all citizens by helping this investigation to progress as smoothly as possible,” Brennan says.

Canada and the United States created the IJC in 1909 through the Boundary Waters Treaty out of a recognition that the way each country manages its waterways along the border affects the other. At the request of each nation, the IJC will act as a neutral third party to resolve transboundary water issues, appointing a board of experts to investigate and recommend solutions.

“For a crisis as complex as the one we face in the Elk Valley, there won’t be any simple solutions,” Brennan says. “The announcement of this investigation is the first step on what will be a long road to change and it would not have happened without the steadfast leadership of the transboundary Ktunaxa Nation. We must ensure that scientific integrity and respect for Indigenous peoples and knowledge along with transparency are upheld as guiding principles throughout the process.”

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