The agency that arbitrates disputes between Canada and the United States over shared waters is begging federal Liberals to join a probe into contamination at British Columbia coal mines before Americans go it alone .
In a letter dated May 13, the International Joint Commission asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to commit Canada to working with the United States to study and find a solution to selenium from Teck Resource’s Elk Valley mines that is ending up in rivers and lakes south of the border.
“We have heard from agencies, stakeholders and Indigenous communities … about their assessments that the issue is becoming increasingly critical,” said the letter, addressed to both Trudeau and US President Joe Biden. “We understand that the United States government is discussing the merits of a unilateral reference to the (commission) on this matter.
“We believe it is in the interests of all parties involved that a joint reference be made to the (commission).”
A response from Global Affairs Canada was not immediately available.
The Centennial Commission was founded to administer the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty between the United States and Canada. His job is to oversee projects that affect water flows across the border. A benchmark is how the commission investigates and seeks solutions.
Ottawa has already denied a request for selenium removal in the Elk Valley from the Ktunaxa First Nation in British Columbia, made in December.
This decision outraged the Ktunaxa.
“We are amazed that Canada can, on this day of reconciliation and public promises by the Prime Minister to fully implement the UN Declaration, commit such a disrespectful act,” said a May 6 letter from the First Nation. to Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault.
The commission warns that the problem is “causing growing conflict”.
Montana and Idaho have set standards for allowable levels of selenium in their waters at 0.8 micrograms per liter. The letter says selenium levels are now 4.99 micrograms per liter in Lake Koocanusa and 1.4 in the Kootenai River, both of which straddle US shores.
“Selenium contamination, first identified more than three decades ago, has continued to worsen, without meaningful binational cooperation to protect the water or aquatic and human life,” the letter said.
Although rarely harmful to humans, selenium can damage fish populations by decreasing their reproductive success.
Teck said the levels allowed in Montana and Idaho are unreasonable. The company has filed a major request under US Freedom of Information laws to examine how they were developed.
“The water column test is actually below natural background levels in some upstream waterways,” Teck spokesman Chris Stannell said in an email.
“The data shows that selenium levels in the Koocanusa Reservoir are safe, have been so for as long as the data has been collected, and are lower than many other water bodies in the state of Montana.”
Teck has a long history of battling selenium contamination at its Elk Valley mines in British Columbia. In March 2021, the company was fined $60 million for the pollution, the largest fine ever imposed under the Fisheries Act.
Teck says it has spent $1.2 billion on water treatment and plans to spend another $750 million. Stannell said about 95% of selenium is now removed from water.
“Later this year, we will have four times the water treatment capacity we had in 2020. We plan to achieve the important goal of stabilizing and reducing the selenium trend in the Elk Valley. “
—Bob Weber, The Canadian Press