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US, Canada announce deal on cross-border watershed pollution

The Biden administration on Monday announced an agreement with Canadian officials and tribal leaders to cut pollution from British Columbia mining activity that has affected waterways on both sides of the national border.

Selenium, an element released during the process of metallurgical coal mining, can hurt the development of fish and wildlife populations in excess. In 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency reported elevated levels of selenium in fish and water along parts of the Kootenai River, which flows from southeastern British Columbia into northern Idaho and Montana.

In the Monday proposal, Canadian and U.S. officials proposed to reduce contamination under the 1909 Boundary Water Treaty. The announcement follows years of lobbying by the Ktunaxa Nation, a tribal government comprising four bands across the border. The proposal asks the International Joint Commission to create a new governing body with representatives from impacted governments to cut pollutants in the watershed.

“The Elk-Kootenai watershed is crucial to the well-being of communities in the United States, Canada, and the Ktunaxa Nation. Under President Biden’s leadership, we are taking long-awaited, collaborative action to address pollution and restore clean water for the region,” said Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, in a statement. “This joint reference will jumpstart efforts, guided by science, to protect our shared environment across international borders. I look forward to ongoing partnerships with Canada and the Ktunaxa Nation to live up to our responsibilities to all who live downstream.”

“This is an important first step in addressing the serious pollution problem in the Kootenai Watershed, and I am glad to see that the U.S. and Canada are finally taking their commitments to Indigenous peoples, the environment, and the international Boundary Waters Treaty seriously,” said Gary Aitken Jr., vice chairman of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, in a statement. “For decades, mining has impacted our waters, our people, and our resources. While we were seeking action, things moved far too slowly, and the federal government looked the other way. We are finally starting a process where there can be collaboration, trust, and transparency. Ktunaxa said we would not stop until there was an action plan, and we look forward to seeing that through to ensure the real work of healing the river is achieved.”

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