Montana Public Radio

Montana Environmental Regulators Approve Selenium Standards For Lake Koocanusa And Kootenai River

Dec 11, 2020

State environmental regulators Friday approved new standards for a heavy metal in Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai River.

Montana Board of Environmental Review Chair Chris Deveny says the proposed regulations were approved in a five to one vote. The limits are aimed at stemming selenium leaching from coal mines along British Columbia’s Elk River. Selenium in high levels is known to impact fish reproduction.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality earlier this year proposed the new limits on selenium in the transboundary Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai River. Those limits are measured in different ways depending on the circumstances, but the new limits are roughly two to four times more restrictive than the federal rules now in place.

DEQ Director Shaun McGrath said in a written statement, “The department is extremely pleased that after an extensive multi-year process ... the proposed selenium standards have been passed." B.C.’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy says it is still working to propose a selenium standard for the Canadian side of Lake Koocanusa. 

Teck Resources, which owns the existing coal mining operations along the Elk River and hopes to expand its operations there, couldn’t be reached for comment by deadline.