Federal leadership urged on transboundary water issues

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, has issued the latest plea for federal leadership in resolving issues stemming from mine pollution in British Columbia flowing south in salmon-rich transboundary waters, now into the Kootenai River watershed, a sub-basin of the Columbia River Basin.

Tester said in an Oct. 16 letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that their leadership is needed to understand the full scope of the problem and how state, tribal, local and federal partners can work together. Federal participation is needed to identify what additional monitoring is necessary to understand the scope of contamination to this watershed and the best path forward to stop transboundary pollution to the watershed.

The Kootenai River watershed at 19,420 square miles, is one of the largest sub-basins of the Columbia River Basin. The watershed has a high sediment content due to high erosion of glacial sediments in the surrounding mountains, and the Kootenay, with the exception of its tributary, the Slocan River has never been a significant stream for annual runs of Columbia River salmon.

“Canadian mimes have been impacting water quality in the Kootenai for decades, and we are still a long way from resolving the issue,” Tester said. “We have to do better.”

In June, Tester joined with senators from Alaska, Idaho and Washington state in a letter to British Columbia Premier John Horgan insisting on tougher environmental standards for the transboundary rivers. The letter expressed appreciation for Canada’s engagement to date, but said the senators remained concerned over lack of oversight of Canadian mining projects near multiple transboundary rivers flowing from British Columbia into the four states.