Tag Archives: Elk River Valley

Beyond the border: A tale of two rivers

Kootenai River
Kootenai River

One of the North Fork Preservation Association’s founding goals was fighting resource extraction upstream in the Canadian Flathead Valley. This article provides a vivid illustration of what could have happened in the transboundary Flathead and what did happen in the Elk/Kootenai watershed just to our west . . .

On a recent late-August morning, buzzing above the peak-studded North Fork Flathead River Valley in a single-engine Cessna, the familiar summits of Glacier National Park dominated the view to the east, revealing a sky-high harbor of sapphire-green amphitheaters filigreed with waterfalls and bejeweled with cerulean lakes, representing a sliver of the one-million-acre ecosystem permanently protected from the intrusions of industry.

On board the six-seater plane were Erin Sexton, a senior research scientist with the University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station, and Richard Janssen, head of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ (CSKT) Natural Resource Department, as well as a trio of journalists and pilot Bruce Gordon, founder of the nonprofit EcoFlight, which for more than three decades has worked to illuminate critical environmental issues on western landscapes.

Cruising amid calm, clear skies, Gordon’s flight plan called for an aerial tour of the North Fork Flathead River Valley girding Glacier Park and spanning the U.S.-Canada border, where mining and energy development has been banned for years, before crossing over into the Elk and Kootenai (spelled Kootenay in Canada) River Basin south of Fernie, British Columbia (B.C.), below which a chain of open-pit coal mines is responsible for leaching harmful pollutants into Montana.

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Mine effluent water treatment failure in B.C. raises more downstream concerns

Kootenai River
Kootenai River

Yet another object lesson on why it is so important to protect the transboundary Flathead Watershed . . .

As British Columbia’s downstream neighbor, Montana has long been concerned about mining pollution spilling across the international border and into its world-class watersheds — fears that a growing body of research and evidence confirms are well founded.

Most recently, conservation groups and scientists on both sides of the border have renewed their calls for Teck Resources to halt new coal mines in the Elk River Valley, a step they say gained urgency when an experimental water treatment facility designed to stem the flow of a mining contaminant called selenium was taken offline because it was releasing an even more biologically toxic form of the heavy metal.

The trouble brewing in the Elk River is equally worrisome for Montana, where the upstream waterways of British Columbia flow into two shared bodies of water straddling the international boundary — Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai River.

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