Public Meeting to Discuss Coal Mining in the B.C. Portion of the Kootenai

By Beacon Staff

State wildlife officials are hosting a public meeting to discuss the impacts of coal mining activities near the British Columbia portion of the Kootenai River and the water quality in Lake Koocanusa.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, in cooperation with the Kootenai River Network, is hosting an event on June 6 at 2 p.m. at the Ponderosa Room at the Libby City Hall, 952 East Spruce St.

The meeting will feature a panel of experts from Montana Department of Environmental Quality, FWP, British Columbia Ministry of Environment and Teck Resources, which is operating mining in the Kootenai River basin. The panelists will discuss the impacts of selenium on the Lake Koocanusa fishery, ongoing monitoring efforts and plans to reduce selenium associated with continued mining operations.

The transboundary Kootenai River has been named one of the 10 most endangered rivers in the U.S., and its upstream tributary, the Elk River, has been listed as one of the most threatened watersheds in British Columbia due to coal mining operations.

American Rivers, a conservation organization based in Washington D.C., released its annual report, titled “America’s Most Endangered Rivers,” on April 17. The list features the Kootenai, “one of our country’s last wild rivers” that is threatened by open-pit coal mining operations near the Elk.

British Columbia’s Outdoor Recreation Council recently released its own list of endangered rivers, but reduced the focus from 10 to three. The shortlist includes the revered Elk River in southeastern British Columbia, which flows into the Kootenai just north of the U.S.-Canadian border.

Researchers with the Elk Valley Selenium Task Force, a group studying pollution levels in the basin, catalogued “mass deformities” of fish that were exposed to the Elk River Valley tributaries in southeast British Columbia. They also discovered high levels of a metal-like element called selenium, as well as abnormal nitrate and phosphate levels.

A recent report co-authored by University of Montana scientists warned of high levels of selenium in the watershed, as well as abnormal nitrate and phosphate levels. Selenium arises during the mining process and can leach into surrounding soils and groundwater. It can also be carried by rain or melting snow into the watershed.

Teck Resources is seeking to expand four of its five mines in the Elk River Valley.

RELATED: Watershed Concerns Surface

RELATED: Letter to the Editor: Teck Committed to Responsible Resource Development

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