Conservationists say Canadian mines are killing Idaho fish. Crapo, Risch urge change.

Coho salmon dying from pollution

Coho salmon gasp, become disoriented, and die in Longfellow Creek, in Seattle, WA, as pollution in stormwater runoff takes its toll.
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Coho salmon gasp, become disoriented, and die in Longfellow Creek, in Seattle, WA, as pollution in stormwater runoff takes its toll.

Two Idaho lawmakers added their names to a bipartisan letter sent to officials in British Columbia and Canada on mining operations that are polluting shared rivers.

Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch joined legislators from Alaska, Washington and Montana last Thursday to highlight work that Congress is doing to address environmental and economic impacts of Canadian mining near the Pacific Northwest — and to share concerns that Canada isn’t doing enough.

The lawmakers said they wrote the letter after the International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canadian group that negotiates transnational water issues, failed to meet in April. In the letter, addressed to British Columbia Premier John Horgan, the legislators said they’ve pushed for improved water quality monitoring and water management strategies in their respective home states.

“While we appreciate Canada’s engagement to date, we remain concerned about the lack of oversight of Canadian mining projects near multiple transboundary rivers that originate in B.C. and flow into our four U.S. states,” the letter said.

According to a news release from the National Parks Conservation Association, hardrock and coal mines in British Columbia are polluting rivers that then flow downstream into the U.S. In Idaho, the Elk/Kootenai watersheds and Kootenai River are at risk, the association said.

The group claims that selenium from coal mines “has killed and deformed fish and threatens native trout and ... white sturgeon” in Idaho. The legislators’ letter also raises concerns about harm to salmon and the local industries that rely on the fish.

“As you know, Alaska, Washington, Idaho, and Montana have tremendous natural resources that need to be protected against impacts from B.C. hard rock and coal mining activities near the headwaters of shared rivers, many of which support environmentally and economically significant salmon populations,” the lawmakers’ letter said.

According to the letter, the legislators plan to ask for continued funding from Congress for the water quality projects. The bipartisan group asked Canadian officials to move on similar monitoring projects.

State, federal and tribal officials from the region already have urged British Columbia to better analyze the impacts of mines to shared rivers. Salmon Beyond Borders, a transnational organization dedicated to salmon recovery, did not list any existing letters from Idaho tribes or officials.

The bipartisan letter was applauded by environmental activists as a step in the right direction.

“We commend our Congressional leaders for taking steps towards a long-term solution that will benefit our waterways on both sides of the border,” said Matthew Nykiel, conservation associate with the Idaho Conservation League, in the National Parks Conservation Association release. “A letter like this is a powerful message to British Columbia, and it shows that we are stronger together. Mining in the B.C. headwaters of transboundary rivers is a problem we all share, and it will require an international response to solve it.“

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