BC Mining & Transboundary Rivers: What do Alaska, Montana and Washington have in common?
They all share a border with British Columbia and they are all calling on the State Department for help
British Columbia (BC) is in the midst of a mining boom, with 15 large-scale mines in various stages of exploration, development, and operation in watersheds that flow from Canada into the U.S. Lax mining regulations and low standards for financial bonding have encouraged the industry’s expansion in the region, but at what cost? Many of these mine sites sit within watersheds of rivers with extremely high fisheries values — like the Skagit River in Washington, the Elk and Kootenai Rivers in Montana, and the Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers in Alaska.
That means mine pollution, and its effects on fish, people and jobs, crosses borders.
B.C.’s track record doesn’t inspire much confidence. In 2014 the Mt. Polley Mine’s tailings dam collapsed and dumped over 6 billion gallons of toxic mine waste into the Fraser River watershed. Teck Coal mines are currently releasing high levels of selenium into the Kootenai watershed in Montana, leading to deformities, infertility and die-offs in fish. Meanwhile, just dozens of miles from Alaska’s capital, the defunct Tulsequah Chief Mine has been leaching acid mine drainage into the Taku River watershed for more than 60 years.
Many of these mines will require perpetual water treatment—that means forever! Yet, BC has only minimal reclamation requirements. In a 2016 report, BC’s own Auditor General found, “Compliance and enforcement activities of the mining sector are inadequate to protect the province from significant environmental risks.”