On December 11, the Montana Board of Environmental Review will decide on proposed new limits on selenium pollution in Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai River. These limits would benefit water quality and fish in Idaho, too.

Selenium pollution has been on the rise in these waterways since the mid-1980s. The pollution is caused by large mountaintop removal coal mines in the Elk River Valley of southeast British Columbia. The pollution flows downstream into Lake Koocanusa and ultimately, the Kootenai River in Idaho.

Selenium pollution can lead to fish deformities, reproductive failure, and population crashes, as it has in the Fording River near the coal mines.

Steps must be taken to curb upstream sources of selenium pollution before it takes a devastating toll on fish downstream in Idaho’s Kootenai River. Already we have seen alarming signs in Idaho with concentrations of selenium in the bodies of mountain whitefish in the Kootenai River exceeding Environmental Protection Agency health thresholds.

A treaty between the United States and Canada provides that water quality standards approved in the U.S. can be enforced north of the border. Also, because the Kootenai River in Idaho is downstream from Montana, any limits that Montana approves will benefit water quality and fish downstream in Idaho.

Approval of the new selenium pollution limits would be timely. Teck Coal is seeking approval from the Province of British Columbia to expand one of its Elk River Valley mines. If approved, the Fording River Mine would be the largest coal mine in Canada.

Click here to find out how you can tune in to the hearing via Zoom, which is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 11 at 8 a.m. Pacific/9 a.m. Mountain.