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Bilateral Working Group issues report on transboundary water monitoring

  • For immediate release  — February 25, 2021
  • Contacts:
    • Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Public Information Officer, 907-465-5009
    • Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy Media Relations, 250-953-3834

Victoria, BC / Juneau, AK — A collaborative four-year effort between B.C. and Alaska to examine water quality in the Stikine, Taku, and Unuk transboundary watersheds brought together government agencies, Indigenous Nations, industry, and the public to ensure the environmental, cultural, and economic values of these rivers are protected.

"This program has been an extraordinary partnership of many dedicated and knowledgeable people, and is a great example of what can be achieved when we work together," said George Heyman, B.C.'s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. "Water and wildlife don't recognize borders, and so it's up to all of us to protect our critical and priceless watersheds regardless of jurisdiction."

"Baseline data is incredibly important to understand the health of our transboundary waters, " said Jason Brune, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. "The data has not shown a measurable impact to Alaskan waters from historical mining activities in B.C. and will serve as a foundation to assess potential impacts from future industrial activity as well."

The final reports of the B.C.-Alaska Transboundary Rivers Monitoring Program were released today and concluded that these rivers continue to support and sustain aquatic life in conjunction with mining and other land use activities.

The program was initiated out of the 2015 Memorandum of Understanding and Statement of Cooperation (Agreement) signed by the Governor of Alaska and Premier of British Columbia. The agreement called for the creation of a Bilateral Working Group (BWG) consisting of the commissioners of the Alaska departments of Environmental Conservation, Fish and Game, and Natural Resources and the deputy ministers of the British Columbia ministries of Energy, Mines, and Low Carbon Innovation, and Environment and Climate Change Strategy. The BWG seeks to foster ongoing collaboration on several deliverables to enhance and protect the shared environment, transboundary rivers, watersheds, and fisheries. The program focused on a review of existing environmental data, implementation of a joint water sampling program, partnerships with local Indigenous Nations, industries, and environmental groups.

With the BWG's approval of the final reports, the B.C.-Alaska Transboundary Rivers Monitoring Program has now concluded its work. Given the existence of other sampling programs planned by state, federal or provincial agencies throughout the transboundary region, there is no need to continue the joint program. Alaska and B.C. will continue to collaborate on efforts to ensure the long-term protection of the shared waterways.

Final report of the B.C.-Alaska Transboundary Rivers Monitoring Program


British Columbia and Alaska Bilateral Working Group on the Protection of Transboundary Waters

B.C.-Alaska Transboundary Rivers Monitoring Program final report results

The program has released its final report including the activities and results from two years of sampling – from 2017 to 2019. The sampling program included physical habitat assessments, physical and chemical analyses of water and sediment, and chemical analyses of fish and invertebrates collected in the Taku, Stikine, and Unuk watersheds.

Water and sediment samples were tested for a number of elements, such as: cadmium, copper, selenium, zinc, arsenic, iron, manganese and nickel. Findings included:

  • Some water sample results exceeded B.C. water quality guidelines at the B.C. sample sites. However, there were no exceedances of Alaska water quality standards for all samples taken downstream of the B.C.-Alaska border.
  • In some cases, element concentrations in water samples were above provincial guidelines upstream from mine sites, likely reflecting waters with naturally elevated mineral levels.
  • Sediment samples in both jurisdictions identified sites with concentrations of some elements above guidelines. Again, the elevated levels are largely attributed to naturally occurring mineral deposits in several areas.
  • Water quality testing showed significant agreement between data collected by government and data collected by industry. Biological sampling looked at the presence of contaminants in migratory and resident fish species in the watersheds.
  • Fish sample results showed that the concentrations of elements in juvenile resident fish varied between sample sites in each watershed.
  • Resident fish species (such as Dolly Varden char) sample results in the Taku watershed revealed similar results both upstream and downstream of the Tulsequah Chief Mine.
  • In all fish sampled, the total mercury concentrations were below Health Canada's maximum limit for human consumption.

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