The Montana state government is considering new water quality standards for Lake Koocanusa. File photo.

Montana considering new water quality standards for Lake Koocanusa

The BC government is holding out on recommending a water quality objective for selenium levels in Lake Koocanusa following a recent proposal from a Montana state environmental agency.

The proposal, pitched through a review board with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, suggests a standard of of 0.8 micrograms per litre (µg/L) of dissolved selenium and 3.1 micrograms per litre (µg/L) further downstream in the Kootenai River.

“The proposed water column value for Lake Koocanusa is lower than the EPA’s national recommended criteria of 1.5 µg/L for lakes and reservoirs, but in alignment with the recommendation that, where possible, selenium standards should be established based on site-specific conditions,” reads a news release from the DEQ.

“This is because selenium accumulates as it moves through the food chain in bugs, fish and other aquatic life. The accumulation differs from site-to-site depending on factors such as species and general water chemistry.”

B.C. had participated with the DEQ establish a selenium level objective for Lake Koocanusa, according to a government statement, but stopped short of offering more specific details.

“British Columbia has not yet selected a proposed water-quality objective for selenium. B.C. is committed to a science-based process informed by the best data available,” reads the statement.

“A selenium-level target will only be established once B.C. is fully confident that the process has met this high standard and after seeking consensus with the Ktunaxa Nation Council on a recommended standard for selenium for this transboundary waterbody.”

The proposed standards pitched to Montana DEQ come from more than six years of collaboration with selenium scientific experts and the Lake Koocanusa Monitoring and Research Working Group, which included active participation from Teck, a mining company that operates five coal mines in the Elk Valley.

A company spokesperson says Teck’s involvement included “contributing data and technical input toward a process to develop a science-based site specific selenium criteria for the reservoir.”

The spokesperson added that Teck has made ‘significant progress’ on the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan, building two water treatment facilities that are treating 17.5 million litres of water a day, with a goal of ramping up capacity to 47.5 million litres a day by 2021.

Wildsight, a local conservation organization, castigated the provincial government for “stalling” on a shared selenium water standard with Montana.

“After more than five years of research and discussion, we’re finally ready to adopt a shared selenium pollution limit for our shared lake,” said Lars Sander-Green, Mining Lead for Wildsight. “But now it looks like B.C. is backing away from the advice of their own scientists and stalling on making official the pollution limit they agreed to adopt together with Montana years ago.”

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