Selenium in Koocanusa draws concern

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What next?

An article in the Winter Issue of Trout Line, Montana Trout Unlimited’s statewide newsletter, grabbed my attention and prompted its placement in my “gotta write about” pile.

Reports of two-headed fish and a two-beaked shorebird at Lake Koocanusa have heightened concern that selenium, flowing into the 90-mile reservoir north of Libby, is causing fish and wildlife deformities.

Selenium, along with cadmium, nitrates and sulfates originate from coal mining activities in British Columbia, flowing down the Elk River and eventually settling in Lake Koocanusa.

While deformities may be rare at this time, selenium, once it accumulates in mature trout, causes eggs not to hatch.

The threat of expanded coal mining in B. C.’s Elk Valley makes the problem even more real and pressing.

This year, FWP will conclude its third 5-year tissue sampling project which will provide data for setting Montana’s selenium standard for Lake Koocanusa.

The story touted TU’s effort in supporting a joint letter sent by Senator Tester and Governor Bullock to (then) U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson asking for renewed efforts for U.S. and Canadian governments to uphold the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty.

The treaty “obligates both countries to avoid polluting shared waters that would cause harm in either country.”

Tillerson replied he was “committed to starting a process with his Canadian counterparts to address coal mine pollution from B.C. and its impacts to Montana.”

Let’s hope the state will establish a realistic standard for selenium, then both countries will cooperate to keep our waters safe and nonthreatening.

Stay tuned…

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