Guest Blog Ryland Nelson: This Canada Water Week the Elk River Needs Some Love

The Elk River in British Columbia’s Southern Rockies runs through one of the most important wildlife corridors in North America, connecting Waterton-Glacier and Banff National Parks, which are also World Heritage sites and UNESCO Biosphere reserves.

For over 100 years mining has been king in this valley. Production began with small underground extraction projects, and eventually 60 years later, moved to the large-scale open pit coal mining that we still see today. With open pit coal mining, huge volumes of waste rock have accumulated. This waste rock, when exposed to water and air begins to leach selenium and other elements at higher rates than if the landscape were left untouched.

In 1995 selenium levels first breached the BC Water Quality Guideline of 2 micrograms per litre. Since then, the average levels have more than doubled. In some tributaries downstream of the mines, selenium levels regularly reach over 40 micrograms per litre – 20 times the provincial guideline!

The rising selenium levels in the Elk River are directly correlated to the growing volume of waste rock scattered throughout the valley by mining operators.

The current approach allows industry to self regulate its practices, which has clearly failed. Even with impressive commitments by Teck Coal to tackle the problem, it does not address the other mining companies that are beginning to propose new operations.

The provincial government has neglected to enforce it’s own guidelines in this region for too long. It is time for them to step up to the plate and take a leadership role in addressing this pressing issue.

We need a comprehensive long-term plan that reconciles the region’s world-class wildlife and wilderness values with its coal resources. The plan should ensure protection of human health, wilderness recreation, international fisheries, water quality and core habitat values, as well as ensure wildlife connectivity from the Flathead River Valley to Banff National Park. Visit www.flatheadwild.ca for more information on the vision Wildsight, Sierra Club BC, CPAWS-BC, the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, and our communities have for this special place.

The people of the Elk Valley love this river. And today, as part of Canada Water Week, we are joining thousands of others across the country by lending our voices to the “I Love My Water Body” declaration. Want to join us? Jump on board at www.ilovemylake.ca.

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