Following Tester Effort, United States & Canada Agree to Find Solutions in Kootenai Watershed Pollution

Senator pushed Administration on solutions before President’s trip to Canada

Following continued pressure from U.S. Senator Jon Tester leading into President Biden’s recent trip to Ottawa, Canada, the Biden Administration this week announced that the two countries intend to reach an agreement in principle by this summer to reduce and mitigate the impacts of water pollution in the Kootenai watershed.

Tester has been Montana’s most vocal advocate for a fix to the problem, and first called on the State Department to tackle the transboundary water pollution in July, 2015.

“As a third generation farmer, I know the importance of clean water to our economy and communities across the Treasure State,” said Tester. Clean water powers our $7.1 billion outdoor economy, is critical to our farmers and ranchers ability to feed the world – and after holding this Administration’s feet to the fire, I’m happy to see the President taking real action to find a solution. It’s beyond time for Canada to come to the table and help address this transboundary issue, and I’ll hold the Administration accountable until a permanent fix is put in place.”

Over the coming months, the United States and Canadian governments, and Tribes and First Nations on both sides of the border will identify specific steps to protect transboundary waters with the goal of reducing and mitigating the water pollution in the Kootenai watershed.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has continually found increased levels of contamination, including selenium, nitrates, sedimentation, and other impairments associated with Canadian coal mining in the watershed, and in 2019 researchers at the EPA and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found high levels of selenium in fish eggs and tissues. State and federal agencies have found elevated selenium levels in fish as far downstream as Idaho, and Idaho has declared the Kootenai River an impaired stream. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT), the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, and the Ktunaxa Tribal First Nation in British Columbia have consistently pushed the Canadian and U.S. governments to jointly refer the issue to the International Joint Commission (IJC).

Tester has long advocated for a fix to halt the flow of pollution into American waters. In 2019 he joined a bipartisan group of colleagues in calling on Canadian officials to implement tougher regulations for rivers that originate in Canada and flow into the U.S., noting that communities in Northwest Montana depend on clean, healthy water to survive, and as part of the 2020 Interior Appropriations Bill, Tester secured $1.5 million for USGS stream gages to monitor transboundary watersheds and continuing support for monitoring at Lake Koocanusca, the transboundary reservoir in the Kootenai watershed. Senator Tester has consistently pushed multiple administrations for a referral to the IJC to resolve these issues, most recently in a letter to President Biden last week.


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