Commentary Urges Action on Transboundary Mining Pollution

Commentary published in the journal Science by an international group of science and policy experts calls for immediate action to address damages and risks of Canadian mine pollution floating downstream into the United States.

The commentary calls on the US and Canadian governments to invoke the US-Canada Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 and address British Columbia mine assessments, which are neither adequately based on defensible science nor adequately protect those salmon rich transboundary waters from mine pollution.

According to Jill Weitz, director of Salmon Beyond Borders, and one of the authors of the commentary, British Columbia’s mine assessment process leaves Alaskans unprotected because it underestimates the risk of mine failures and contamination and doesn’t rely on independent science.

The transboundary watersheds of the Taku, Stikine-Iskut and Unuk-Nass are home to world class salmon rivers that originate in northwest British Columbia and flow into Southeast Alaska. These rivers and their watersheds have been centers of culture, commerce and biodiversity for thousands of years, and critical to the economy of numerous Southeast Alaska communities. At the headwaters of these rivers lie over two dozen large scale Canadian mines already in some phase of development or operation.

The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska have also called on the US government to take action under the Boundary Waters Treaty. The Central Council began working to collect baseline water quality data, sediment sampling and water quality surveys on the Taku and Stikine rivers back in 2015. In 2018, the Council expanded their scope to sampling on the Alsek River near Yakutat, and in 2019 added the Chikat and Klehini rivers outside of Klukwan and Haines.

Central Council Environmental Coordinator Raymond Paddock said the commentary validates the concerns of Southeast Alaska tribes as well as their request for increased federal engagement from Canada, the US and indigenous governments, to work together to manage proposed, existing and abandoned mines along shared rivers.