Report reveals Elk Valley’s $6.4 billion water pollution problem

A new Wildsight-commissioned report has revealed it will cost at least $6.4 billion to reverse rising selenium concentrations in Canadian and United States waterways due to toxic runoff from British Columbia’s Elk Valley coal mines.

Selenium contamination from the Teck-owned mines has been a topic of increasing concern over the past decade, with concentrations consistently breaching both B.C. and Montana’s water quality standards. The Transboundary Ktunaxa have consistently called for greater protections and remediation in these waterways, with limited success. Their efforts were rewarded recently with the announcement of an investigation into the selenium issue by the International Joint Commission.

The report, which was completed by independent consulting firm Burgess Environmental Ltd, calculates what it will cost to treat half of the selenium-contaminated water coming from Teck’s Elk Valley mines over the next 60 years, as per Teck’s 2023 water treatment plan.

The report’s findings are particularly concerning because they put the cost of cleaning up selenium pollution far higher than what we’ve previously been led to believe based on Teck’s $1.9 billion reclamation security. This could mean taxpayers are left to foot a multi-billion-dollar bill if the owner of these mines ever goes under.

A recent study found that over the past 38 years, selenium concentrations have more than quadrupled in the Kootenay/ai watershed, with levels regularly exceeding those considered safe for aquatic life and human health. The watershed includes communities such as the B.C. city of Fernie, Lake Koocanusa on the Canadian-United States border, and water courses flowing through Montana and Idaho.