Heavy metals run out of the Tulsequah Chief mine opening and down to holding ponds next to the Tulsequah River Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2008. Leakage from those ponds can be seen entering the river that flows into the Taku River down stream. Eight U.S. senators sent a letter Thursday to British Columbia, Canada’s premier asking for more transboundary water oversight. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Heavy metals run out of the Tulsequah Chief mine opening and down to holding ponds next to the Tulsequah River Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2008. Leakage from those ponds can be seen entering the river that flows into the Taku River down stream. Eight U.S. senators sent a letter Thursday to British Columbia, Canada’s premier asking for more transboundary water oversight. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

8 senators send letter urging more transboundary water quality oversight from British Columbia

Bipartisan group includes every state from every state bordering B.C.

Senators from Alaska and three other states want to see more oversight and accountability for transboundary water quality from British Columbia.

A bipartisan group of every senator from every state that borders British Columbia — Alaska, Montana, Washington and Idaho — sent a letter Thursday to British Columbia Premier John Horgan urging closer monitoring of transboundary water quality and how mining practices can negatively impact downstream U.S. residents.

Horgan’s office did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The letter from Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska; Patty Murray, D-Washington; Maria Cantwell, D-Washington; James Risch, R-Idaho; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; Jon Tester, D-Montana; and Steve Daines, R-Montana, calls for British Columbia to adopt standards of oversight and accountability similar to what is required in the U.S.

[Could Canadian mine be cautionary tale for Southeast]

“We write together to highlight efforts of the United States (U.S.) and continued plans of Congress to protect American interests in the face of potential environmental and economic impacts resulting from large-scale hardrock and coal mines in British Columbia, Canada (B.C.),” the senators wrote. “While we appreciate Canada’s engagement to date, we remain concerned about the lack of oversight of Canadian mining projects near multiple transboundary rivers that originate in B.C. and flow into our four U.S. states.”

Heavy metals run out of the Tulsequah Chief mine opening and down to holding ponds next to the Tulsequah River Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2008. Leakage from those ponds can be seen entering the river that flows into the Taku River down stream. Eight U.S. senators sent a letter Thursday to British Columbia, Canada’s premier asking for more transboundary water oversight. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Heavy metals run out of the Tulsequah Chief mine opening and down to holding ponds next to the Tulsequah River Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2008. Leakage from those ponds can be seen entering the river that flows into the Taku River down stream. Eight U.S. senators sent a letter Thursday to British Columbia, Canada’s premier asking for more transboundary water oversight. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

The letter noted the International Joint Commission, which resolves and prevents U.S.-Canada disputes, was unable to meet in April because it lacked a quorum of commissioners, so the letter also served as an update on congressional efforts to address transboundary water concerns.

These include a working group established by the Department of State, Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency to address concerns about mining in transboundary watersheds and the appropriation of $1.8 million for stream gauges in transboundary rivers that will provide data about impacts of upstream mining.

“Congress has also directed the U.S. Geological Survey to enter into a formal partnership with local Tribes and other agencies to develop a long-term water quality strategy to address contamination risks in transboundary rivers shared by British Columbia and Alaska, Washington, Idaho and Montana,” senators wrote.

That sentence in particular was good news to Tis Peterman, coordinator for the Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission, who said she was pleased to see the word “Tribes” used in a letter written by senators.

“We’ve been working since 2014 to have a say in transboundary mining,” Peterman said in an interview with the Empire.

She was also pleased in general that the federal government presented a unified front and asked for action.

So too was Heather Hardcastle, campaign adviser for Salmon Beyond Borders, which is a campaign to defend and sustain transboundary rivers.

“I am so heartened to see this letter, and I think the power of it is you not only have eight senators who have signed it, but it represents a lot of frustration, a lot of problem solving and attempted problem solving by leaders in four states,” Hardcastle told the Empire. “Eight U.S. Senators took this unprecedented step because there needs to be an admission and commitment from the B.C. government that this is an international issue. You do things differently when you have rivers that are shared by two countries, multiple states and indigenous governments.”

Concerns about the impacts of upstream mines on U.S. waters have a long history. In the past, Alaska governors and congressional delegations have shared those concerns with the U.S. State Department; however, expanded and new mines continue to be approved in British Columbia.

“That’s where the frustration comes in,” Hardcastle said. “We not only have pollution in Montana and Idaho from British Columbia mines, yet they’re continuing to approve expanded mines in the region that affects Montana and Idaho, and they’re approving all these gold and copper mines near the headwaters that affect Washington and Alaska.”

The full text of the letter is below.

Dear Premier Horgan,

It is our understanding that the International Joint Commission (IJC) did not convene in April for its usual meeting as the IJC lacked a quorum among U.S. and Canadian Commissioners. As you know, the bilateral discussions on transboundary water issues that typically occur in conjunction with the biannual convening of the IJC have strengthened bilateral cooperation between the two governments, including discussion of the future of the Lake Koocanusa Working Group in Montana, efforts to establish baseline monitoring in the Alaska-British Columbia transboundary area, and sharing best practices on transboundary notification procedures. In the absence of this engagement opportunity between our two governments, we feel it is possible and appropriate to continue our effort and are writing to provide you with a summary of our own work in Congress to dedicate attention and resources to concerns regarding U.S. – B.C. transboundary watersheds.

We write together to highlight efforts of the United States (U.S.) and continued plans of Congress to protect American interests in the face of potential environmental and economic impacts resulting from large-scale hardrock and coal mines in British Columbia, Canada (B.C.). While we appreciate Canada’s engagement to date, we remain concerned about the lack of oversight of Canadian mining projects near multiple transboundary rivers that originate in B.C. and flow into our four U.S. states. To address these concerns, we have taken steps in partnership with our federal and State governments to improve water quality monitoring and push for constructive engagement with Canada. In sharing an update on our efforts, we hope to encourage you, in your role as Premier, to allocate similar attention, engagement, and resources to collaborative management of our shared transboundary watersheds.

The Department of State, Department of the Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency established an interagency working group in 2017 to address concerns regarding B.C.’s mining activity in transboundary watersheds and to determine the specific mechanisms necessary to safeguard U.S. economic interests and resources. Furthermore, the U.S. Congress has recently appropriated funding ($1.8 million USD) to the Department of the Interior for stream gauges in transboundary rivers which will provide better monitoring and water quality data, including detection of any impacts from upstream mining, at the international boundary. Congress has also directed the U.S. Geological Survey to enter into a formal partnership with local Tribes and other agencies to develop a long-term water quality strategy to address contamination risks in transboundary rivers shared by British Columbia and Alaska, Washington, Idaho and Montana.

As you know, Alaska, Washington, Idaho, and Montana have tremendous natural resources that need to be protected against impacts from B.C. hard rock and coal mining activities near the headwaters of shared rivers, many of which support environmentally and economically significant salmon populations. Additionally, indigenous peoples whose lands are affected by past, present and proposed mines near transboundary rivers have voiced concern and requested that the U.S. and Canadian governments undertake cumulative assessments of impacts to communities, cultural and natural resources, as well as the enforcement of the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. These transboundary watersheds support critical water supply, recreation opportunities, and wildlife habitat that support many livelihoods in local communities. We appreciate the diverse array of benefits that responsible management of our shared watersheds can bring, and view this as an opportunity to engage and collaborate toward a mutually beneficial future.

Members of Congress, including some of the undersigned below, as well as state governments have called for oversight and accountability measures in shared transboundary watersheds equivalent to those on the U.S. side of the border. Furthermore, in April of 2018, U.S. Department of State presented to Global Affairs Canada concerns and opportunities for collaboration regarding: 1) strengthening the decision-making process regarding mining impacts in shared transboundary watersheds, in coordination with local stakeholders; 2) insufficient scoping and evaluation of past, present and future mining impacts with respect to geographic extent and cumulative impacts; and 3) use of objective, transparent data collection and gaps in baseline and long-term monitoring. Congress has directed the U.S. government to increase its work with federal, state, tribal and local partners, including local elected officials, to monitor and reduce contaminants in transboundary watersheds.

We have both an opportunity and a responsibility to better manage our critical shared resources in a cooperative, constructive manner. As we prepare to request continued funding from the U.S. Congress to support our ongoing efforts, we seek your direct engagement on these matters and ask for you to undertake, alongside your federal counterparts, dedicated efforts to monitor transboundary water quality. We look forward to working with you to address the challenges posed to the economies, cultures, and resources of our great region.


• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.


Acid contaminated water runs from the entrance of the Tulsequah Chief Mine in Canada in October 2018. Eight U.S. senators sent a letter Thursday to British Columbia, Canada’s premier asking for more transboundary water oversight. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Acid contaminated water runs from the entrance of the Tulsequah Chief Mine in Canada in October 2018. Eight U.S. senators sent a letter Thursday to British Columbia, Canada’s premier asking for more transboundary water oversight. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

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