Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

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

Expect the Unexpected – The Missouri in the Spring

Fly fishing the Missouri River above Cascade Lake out of Craig Montana in early April is not for the average angler.  Snow, rain, hail, wind and sun are always in the forecast.  However the rewards of early spring fishing far out weigh any concerns for weather.  That’s why we spend $$$ on guide clothes, right?

This year, I selected the same dates to fish the MO as last year.  Big surprise.  Record snowpacks and cold temperatures extended winter well into early April.  However, we still caught “angry” Browns and “feisty” rainbows on adult skwala patterns as well as the short leash nymphing technique.  (See previous post)  If you go say hi to Headhunters Fly Shop owner Mark Raiser.  Ask for Jared Edens to guide you.  You won’t be disappointed.  (yes that’s a purple Skwala)

Hungry browns in spring await your presentation.
Hungry browns in spring await your presentation.


Late Fall on the Yakima River

Fall streamer fishing on the Yakima River in Eastern Washington State is picking up. The rainbows are looking for a “big” meal as winter approaches. They can sense the weather change as water temperatures begin to drop. Its a quiet and peaceful time to be on the river. Big Horn Sheep are back in the Yakima Canyon. Look closely along the hillsides and you will see them. Short floats are best this time of year. Watch the water temperatures closely. There is a cold snap coming however it should warm up after the front moves through.

Deadly Hatch

Coming in 2011 – The Deadly Hatch – a new Miles Cavanaugh mystery

Excerpt – all rights copyrighted, 2010, Michael Hamilton

“What is it about the coming sunrise that makes the new day yet to be lived full of promise and possibility.  Where does the hope linger in each of us that the new dawn will bring something fresh, something undiscovered?  In the darkness, before the coming light gains quickly on the day, not pausing for a second to stop and rest awhile, I have felt giddy with excitement and apprehension.  Maybe even blessed, not in any religious sense, because I don’t believe in any one man’s religion, but more thankful to marvel at the colors and clarity of the moment while not knowing how the day will turn out. I would soon discover that no one in the Eastern Washington town of Cascade could have imagined what this day would bring, how it would turn out, as the sun broke above the horizon in a fiery blaze of glowing reds, smeared like a streak of paint across the new born sky.  It was an eerie scene. Thin, funneled shaped clouds with jagged edges, looking like an army of red tinged daggers, marched in columns ahead of the rising sun.  Someone up early for work or school or just coming home from the graveyard shift at Braxton Fertilizer must have thought to themselves, “Red Sky in the Morning Sailors Warning”, maybe even said it aloud.  But if they did, no one could remember hearing anything of the sort.  Too bad. “