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By Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press

Lake Koocanusa

A Republican lawmaker from Libby on Wednesday spoke on behalf of a bill that seeks to strike the existing water quality standard for selenium in Lake Koocanusa and double the limit.

Selenium is a chemical element entering Lake Koocanusa, a reservoir shared by British Columbia and Montana, from Canadian mining company Teck Coal. Even in small quantities, selenium can hamper reproductive success in fish. Selenium toxicity can also lead to spinal and facial deformities in fish.

Opposing the proposed bill, environmental and conservation organizations, along with representatives from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, described the 0.8 micrograms-per-liter standard the state adopted in 2020 as scientifically based and critical to protect Koocanusa’s fishery from Teck’s metallurgical coal-mining operation. No proponents spoke on behalf of the bill.

Bill sponsor Rep. Steve Gunderson, who sat on an interim study committee that met three times last year to review the Koocanusa selenium standard, said House Bill 473 is intended to establish a Lake Koocanusa selenium standard in the event that the Environmental Protection Agency acts on the Board of Environmental Review’s December petition to invalidate the existing standard.


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