Kootenai River Water-Quality Monitoring Related to Transboundary Coal Mining

Science Center Objects

The Kootenai River (Kootenay in Canada) rises from the Canadian Rockies and flows south in an arc through Montana and Idaho before swinging back into British Columbia and the Columbia River. The uplifted sedimentary rocks forming the southern Canadian Rockies have rich coal deposits that have been mined for many decades. The coal beds and associated rock layers are enriched with other minerals as well, and in the last two decades elevated concentrations of selenium in downstream waters have raised concerns. Selenium is an essential mineral for all animals, but in excess it can accumulate in the tissues of fish and other animals to the point of harming reproduction.

In 2018, in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and with in-kind support from the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game; and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, we began collecting water and fish-tissue samples from sites in the Kootenai River and major tributaries. We published the results of those efforts in a data release.

Study are map for Kootenai River water-quality study

Study are map for Kootenai River water-quality study

(Public domain.)

Congress recently passed legislation to provide funding to expand this water-quality monitoring. Scientists from our center and the USGS Wyoming-Montana Water Science Center will conduct water-quality monitoring in Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai River.  For the Kootenai River portion of the study, the objectives of the monitoring are:

  • repeat the 2018 selenium and nutrient sampling in the waters of the Kootenai River and major tributaries,
  • repeat and expand selenium sampling in the tissues of fish from the Kootenai River, and
  • investigate the transfer of selenium from water through the food web to fish in the river.

The monitoring begins in 2020 and is expected to continue through at least 2022.