Following Years-Long Tester Push, United States & Canada File Joint Reference on Selenium Pollution in Kootenai Watershed

Senator has pressed multiple Administrations for action since 2015

Following a years-long effort from U.S. Senator Jon Tester, the United States and Canada today announced a Joint Reference to the International Joint Commission (IJC) instructing an Independent Governing Body to investigate pollution in the Kootenai Watershed. The pollution is caused by mining in Canada.

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 of 2015. Tester officially requested that the State Department refer the issue to the IJC on November 14, 2023.

“Montanans, Tribes, small businesses, and families rely on clean water for everything from agriculture to community development, and after years of working with stakeholders in the Treasure State to tackle this issue, I’m pleased to see Canada finally coming to the table to find solutions,” said Tester. “We’ve known for years that mining in British Columbia has been polluting the Kootenai watershed, which is why I’ve been pushing for substantive action for nearly a decade. This is a big first step towards addressing the problem, but I’ll continue to put pressure on the State Department to hold the Canadian government accountable in order to protect one of our state’s most important watersheds.”

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has continually found increased levels of contamination, including selenium, nitrates, sedimentation, and other impairments thought to be associated with Canadian open-pit 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 2024 Interior Appropriations Bill, Tester secured $2 million for the Department of Interior to monitor, manage, and coordinate with other agencies to reduce transboundary mining pollution 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 year.