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About admin

I am an outdoor travel writer headquartered in Seattle, Washington. I focus on writing and publishing conservation, fly fishing adventure and travel themed articles for a variety of online/print formats.

Selenium Contamination in Elk River BC Watershed • AROUND THE NORTHWEST, 2020
EPA Study Says British Columbia Coal Mines Polluting Kootenai River, 2020 By Michael Hamilton

Libby Dam, Montana

photo: USGS

A new study has detected elevated levels of contamination in fish and fish eggs in the Kootenai River that flows out of Libby Dam into Montana and Idaho. Water quality sampling determined that “the Kootenai River is being impacted by upstream mining in British Columbia.” The study was a joint effort by the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, and wildlife agencies in Montana and Idaho.

“The findings are concerning. It’s not what we expected,” states EPA hydrologist Jason Gildea. Of the 142 fish evaluated, Gildea notes that a portion tested positive for selenium levels exceeding EPA criteria.

The EPA’s study is based on water chemistry and fish tissue samples taken from a target population below Libby Dam to the Canadian border. “These data indicate upstream activities may be affecting water quality and aquatic resources in Montana and Idaho,” says EPA regional administrator Gregory Sopkin. He adds, “The results, particularly selenium impacts to fish, underscore the need for a more detailed understanding of water quality and continued collaboration to protect Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai River.”

The EPA report notes that contaminants were not detected in water samples from Kootenai River tributaries unaffected by discharge from Lake Koocanusa. According to Gildea, this indicates “the source is the discharge from mine-related constituents at the lake.” Additionally, scientists found levels of nitrate nearly three times higher than samples from the early 2000s. Contaminants entering Lake Koocanusa from B.C.’s Kootenai and Elk Rivers have been increasing for decades. Alarmingly high concentrations of selenium have been leeching into the Elk River Valley watershed from five open-pit metallurgical coal mines operated by Teck Resources, a Canadian mining company.

Selenium is a naturally occurring element present in sedimentary rocks, shales, coal, and phosphate deposits and soils. According to the EPA, “Selenium bioaccumulates in the aquatic food chain and chronic exposure in fish and aquatic invertebrates can cause reproductive impairments.”

Since 2014, key stakeholders from the U.S. and Canada have struggled to adopt transboundary policies to control the flow of these toxic contaminants. As a result, says Erin Sexton, a research scientist at the University of Montana, Flathead Lake Biological Station, Lake Koocanusa has become a settling pond for selenium pollution. “The lake is the most sensitive point in

the watershed because it captures and keeps the contamination flowing downstream from Teck’s open-pit coal mines. We have one of the biggest selenium contamination issues in the world taking place in the Elk River watershed and downstream into Lake Koocanusa.”

High levels of selenium poisoning, adds Sexton, can kill fish and affect reproductive cycles by accumulating in their eggs. In B.C.’s Elk River, for example, fly-fishing guides have documented craniofacial and spinal deformities in westslope cutthroat, a proven result of exposure to high levels of selenium. Concern over selenium pollution from Canadian coal mines is not new. United States officials, including senators from Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Alaska, have demanded that the B.C. government step up its efforts to prevent mining waste from poisoning American watersheds.

In 2016, the EPA issued revised national criteria recommendations for selenium in water and fish. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality is currently working with the British Columbia Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategies and other parties to develop site-specific water quality criteria for selenium in Lake Koocanusa. If adopted, in 2020, these criteria could inform protective levels of selenium on both sides of the border. Meanwhile, three new open-pit coal mines are being proposed in the Elk River Valley in addition to the existing five.

Salmon Farming Under Attack

The controversial practice of farm raising Atlantic Salmon in net pens in Washington State is facing a permanent ban.  The August, 2017, escape of more than 300,000 adult pen reared salmon from Cooke Aquaculture’s Cyprus Island facility in the Strait of Juan De Fuca, has hastened the call to shut down all salmon farming statewide.  Two bills have been introduced in the state legislature to transform the current moratorium, imposed by Governor Jay Inslee, into a permanent ban.  My latest article published in Northwest Fly Fishing Magazine details what caused the escape and what we can expect in the weeks and maybe months ahead.  I will publish follow up articles as the story evolves toward a final conclusion.

Chasing Wild Rainbows in Kamchatka

Living in Seattle, Washington, I never imagined just how close Russia is to the Pacific Northwest.  Fly to Anchorage, Alaska and overnight. On the following morning, catch Japanese owned Yakutia Air Company’s 4 and ½ hour weekly flight from Anchorage  across the Bering Sea to the Russian port city of Petropavlovsk Kamchastky. Return flights to the US are scheduled the following week.  Today, Kamchatka is one of the most exciting ecotourism destinations worldwide.   Hiking, trekking, climbing, wildlife photography, world class fly fishing and more are just a few of the activities that make Kamchatka a jewel in the crown of East Russia.  I hope to return to this land of active and dormant volcanoes that soar above the clouds in 2016.  Please enjoy a taste of my last adventure to this land of “fire and ice.”




Confessions of a Feather & Fin Addict

This year I published an essay in Triple A’s Journey Magazine. Response was overwhelming.  Why did people call and write the magazine?  Nostalgia, plain and simple. The longing to rekindle a sentimental moment shared with a loved one burned as bright today as when it occurred long past. Often happy and melancholy memories are triggered by associations, such as a song on Pandora, or a photo online or in print; and, fortunately in this paradoxical era “where instant communication isn’t fast enough”, the written word that can still evoke heartfelt emotions that helped shaped who we are today.  Thanks to all who still believe that nature is the gateway to a life full of hidden treasures.

FeatherAndFin Addict

Bonefish Missionaries

It’s always Christmas, 24-7.

The Bonefish Missionaries

Bonefish Missionaries

For over two hundred years, English, Australian and American missionaries have cast their secular nets over a small isolated outpost in the Line Islands of the North Pacific.  Their prized catches were the hearts and minds of the Gilbertese, Polynesian descendants named after the British Sea Captain and explorer, Thomas Gilbert, who inhabit the planet’s largest coral atoll of Christmas Island.

Today a new kind of disciple preaches to devoted followers.  Often shoeless and quick to smile, meet the “Bonefish Missionaries”, a handful of highly skilled native fishing guides that patiently teach a steady stream of converts who come to Christmas Island weekly to pursue Bonefish, a.k.a., the silver streak of the flats.

Guides, like Tanaka, who learned to swim before he could walk.  Born to become a fisherman, his knowledge of the flats and his uncanny ability to see “through the water”, provide an exciting narrative for the thousands of fly anglers that have made the pilgrimage to this Bonefish Mecca.