Canadian coal mine pollution threatens north Idaho river

PROMO Energy - Transportation Train Coal - iStock - Satephoto
Published Tuesday, May 16, 2023
by Eric Tegethoff

(Northern Rockies News Service) Pollution from Canadian mines is endangering one of Idaho's largest rivers. 

Selenium and other pollutants from coal mines across the northern border are impacting fish species in the Kootenai River. 

Environmental director for the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, Genny Hoyle, said selenium is reducing or eliminating culturally important fish species.

"We have the endangered Kootenai River white sturgeon," said Hoyle. "It's a federally listed species. We have burbot - also a culturally important fish species for food. So when these populations disappear, you're also impacting treaty rights."

Hoyle said past cross-border attempts to solve this issue have broken down. Selenium in the Kootenai River has raised concerns in North Idaho for decades.

Jennifer Ekstrom, the North Idaho Lakes conservation associate with the Idaho Conservation League, said mine operators in Canada need to install wastewater treatment facilities. 

To compel them to do so, she said the International Joint Commission needs to be put to work. 

Ekstrom said U.S. Sen. Jim Risch - R-Idaho - is in a key position to help this happen, as the highest ranking Republican member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

"The highest levels of government in the United States - the State Department and the EPA - they're calling for a referral to the International Joint Commission," said Ekstrom. "But having our Republican senator's support would go a long way to actually getting the referral to happen."

Hoyle noted that there could be more threats to the river because new mines are going through the permitting process across the border in British Columbia.

"The Kootenai Tribe isn't opposed to mining," said Hoyle. "We just would like them to clean up the pollution coming out of those mines." may earn an affiliate commission if you purchase products or services through links in an article. Prices, when displayed, are accurate at the time of publication but may change over time. Commissions do not influence editorial independence.

The Kiowa County Press is an independent newspaper published in Eads, Kiowa County, Colorado, and to the world at