This year has been a big one for the Salmon Beyond Borders campaign.
All of your emails, phone calls, and testimonies have contributed directly to some big actions in 2019 that move us closer to establishing binding protections for the rivers, jobs, and way of life in Southeast Alaska and Northwest British Columbia (B.C.). We have a lot of work to do in the year ahead and look forward to staying connected throughout the region.
It was difficult to do, but here is what we have narrowed down as the top five highlights from 2019...
5. U.S. Federal Dollars Granted for Water Quality Testing in U.S.-B.C. Rivers
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and the Interior-Environment Appropriations sub-committee directed $1.8 million to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) for the installation and operation of stream gauges in U.S. rivers shared with British Columbia (B.C.). USGS will work with Tribes and state agencies to carry out this very important work for Alaska and other U.S. states that share a border with B.C. (Washington, Idaho, and Montana). The goal is to establish defensible baseline water quality information, which will enable the U.S. to detect water quality changes at the international border shared with British Columbia.
4. Imperial Metals: Skagit River Exploration, No Charges for Mount Polley Disaster
In March of 2019, Imperial Metals sold 70% of its shares of the Red Chris mine in the Sacred Headwaters of the Stikine River to Australian mining giant Newcrest Metals. Shortly after the buyout, Imperial Metals applied for an exploratory mining permit in the headwaters of the transboundary, salmon-bearing Skagit River, which flows from British Columbia across the international border into Washington state. The Skagit serves as the largest producer of Chinook salmon for the Puget Sound and Southern Resident Killer Whale population--and is a key source of power for the City of Seattle.
August 4th, 2019 marked the five-year anniversary of Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine waste dam failure into the Fraser River watershed, and also marked the deadline for Canada to pursue charges against Imperial Metals under the Federal Fisheries Act — a deadline that came and went. At this time, no charges have been filed against Imperial Metals. Despite significant opposition from Tribes and First Nations, stakeholders, U.S. lawmakers, Governor Inslee, and the City of Seattle, the B.C. government is still considering whether to grant Imperial Metals a permit for mining exploration in the Skagit River headwaters.
3. British Columbia Policy and Legislation: Continued Pressure & New Opportunities
In May, 30 organizations launched the B.C. Mining Reform Coalition. The coalition represents nearly 30 local, provincial and national organizations from a wide range of sectors, including stakeholders, First Nations, and legal experts, including Salmon Beyond Borders. Learn more about the efforts to Reform B.C. Mining Law here.
Last month, British Columbia became the first Canadian province to pass legislation implementing the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The legislation passed unanimously. It will take some time to ensure all B.C. laws are consistent with the 46 articles of UNDRIP, as called for by this legislation, but passage of this legislation is sure to have far-reaching impacts in B.C. and beyond for years to come.
At the end of 2018, Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission filed a petition alleging human rights violations from B.C. transboundary mines. B.C.’s recent legislation regarding UNDRIP, including the requirement that developers seek the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of Indigenous people, is an important step forward. However, the provincial government has yet to acknowledge the rights and requests of Tribes on the U.S. side of the border, whose ways of life are threatened by operating, abandoned and proposed large-scale Canadian mines upstream.
Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission also led the effort to ensure the Stikine River was recognized as one of “America's Most Endangered Rivers” in 2019.
2. Mine Waste Dam Standards Under Global Review After Multiple Dam Failures
Following the Mount Polley disaster in 2014, there have been over 20 major mine tailings dam failures worldwide. This year alone, hundreds of people were killed in mine waste dump disasters. The second catastrophic mine waste dam failure in Brazil in just over three years, at Vale’s Brumadinho mine, killed over 200 people in January. These disasters have focused attention on a growing global concern: the lack of global tailings dam standards for the mining industry. Never before has so much scrutiny been placed on the global mining industry and tailings waste dam standards.
The official report on the Mount Polley mine disaster concluded that an average of two mine waste dam failures will occur every 10 years in British Columbia alone--though there have been multiple failures in the last five years worldwide. In northern British Columbia there are over 35 existing mine waste dumps, including the massive Red Chris mine tailings dam near the Stikine River. Dozens more mine tailings dams are proposed in the headwaters of our shared transboundary salmon rivers.
With all of the global attention on the mining industry's lack of tailings dam standards, will British Columbia look to improving theirs? The Reform B.C. Mining Coalition has suggestions for where the provincial government should start.
1. Eight U.S. Senators Send Letter to B.C. Premier Horgan, IJC Visits Alaska & B.C.
Last June, in an unprecedented and bipartisan effort, all eight U.S. senators from the four U.S. states bordering B.C. — Alaska, Washington, Idaho, and Montana — urged B.C. Premier John Horgan to recognize that contamination from upstream B.C. mining in shared U.S.-Canada rivers threatens United States businesses, citizens and resources. In a press release following the letter, Senator Murkowski said:
“This letter shows solidarity from our states and calls for greater protections for our transboundary watersheds. Reforms that ensure mining projects in British Columbia don’t impact Southeast Alaska are essential to protecting our way of life, and must include a system of financial assurances to assure sustained protections of vulnerable natural resources.”
Following the letter to Premier Horgan, at the invitation of Senator Murkowski and Senator Sullivan, four members of the International Joint Commission (IJC), an organization that works to prevent and resolve disputes under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, visited Southeast Alaska to meet with Tribes, government officials, stakeholders, and industry members about their transboundary mining concerns.
All six members of the IJC visited Victoria, B.C. in early December but only met with provincial officials and members of industry, and not with the diversity of people with whom the IJC met in Alaska.
THANK YOU for all of your support this year!
Take action - add your name here to urgent letters for the U.S. State Department and Global Affairs Canada.
Stay up to date on our NEW SBB Community Calendar and Events Page — we look forward to seeing you in the new year! Reach out to us anytime; we always love to hear from you.
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OpinionBy: Norman Brandson
Posted: 11/23/2019 3:00 AM |
The United States Bureau of Reclamation issued a public notice in September initiating an exercise to define the scope of an environmental impact statement for a project called the Eastern North Dakota Alternate Water Supply Project (ENDAWS).
On Oct. 16, the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District and the Lake Agassiz Water Authority convened a conference in Fargo to fan enthusiasm for the construction of a $1.19-billion pipeline to deliver Missouri River water to Fargo North Dakota. Construction is slated to begin next spring.
ENDAWS and the pipeline are not separate projects, but the two halves of the Red River Valley Water Supply project (RRVWS), a slimmed-down version the defunct Garrison Diversion. In fact, ENDAWS proposes to use already constructed features of Garrison to deliver Missouri River water to the pipeline, discharging into the Sheyenne River, which meets the Red River downstream of Fargo.
Garrison went into hibernation after the International Joint Commission — the bi-national administrative body of the Canada/U.S. Boundary Waters Treaty consisting of six commissioners (three from each country) — recommended in 1976 that the project not proceed because of the risk of transferring harmful invasive organisms from the Missouri to the Hudson Bay drainage.
It is a measure of the prominence of the treaty and the professionalism of the commission in those days that the national governments had sufficient confidence in the commission’s objectivity and wisdom to ask for its advice; that they were able to reach consensus on such a contentious issue; and that both governments accepted their recommendations without reservation.
The commission also recommended that transfer of water from the Missouri to the Hudson Bay basin could take place "if and when the governments of Canada and the United States agree that methods have been proven that will eliminate the risk of biota transfer, or if the question of biota transfer is agreed to be no longer a matter of concern." To date, neither of these conditions has been met.
The RRVWS differs from the original Garrison proposal in scale and declared purpose (an alternative water supply for eastern North Dakota in times of severe drought), but poses many of the same risks. And these risks will be constant — it is inconceivable that a multibillion-dollar project will sit idle for years at a time. Uses will be found for this water when no drought exists. The tap will be permanently open.
In recent years, the treaty has faded into insignificance in the power corridors of Ottawa. The Harper government, perhaps sensing — incorrectly — a faint anti-development aroma, ignored the treaty. They were content to have the commission promote good feelings under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, a Canada/U.S. pact negotiated and operated outside of the treaty.
During its first term, the current government, having expended all of its diplomatic capital on renegotiating the Free Trade Agreement, was content to let British Columbia steer the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty. Canada also studiously ignored a proven pollution threat to Montana and Idaho originating in B.C., and dismissed ongoing grumbling from Alaska about mining activities in B.C. Nor did it appear interested in the looming reality of the RRVWS project.
When certain political vectors align in Washington, free trade agreements can go "poof." There are elements in the U.S. state department that would be quite happy to see the treaty disappear, or at least fall into disuse. After all, in bilateral diplomacy with our American neighbours, the treaty is a unique example where we sit at the table as co-operating equals. The treaty binds commissioners to apply their expertise and knowledge, but to not represent "interests." This is quite unlike the power negotiating that takes place on other issues such as free trade.
There are many lakes straddling the international boundary, and about as many rivers flowing south across it as flow north. The treaty has largely disarmed the potential for harmful disputes and cross-border tension. Both countries have benefited enormously from their co-operative management of shared waters.
Perhaps now that free trade is (almost) in the rearview mirror, Canada can turn its attention to re-energizing the Boundary Waters Treaty. Job one is to demonstrate the value of the treaty to our U.S. colleagues. Job two is to ensure that the principles of the treaty are consistently applied; that no actions on shared lakes and rivers with potential to harm the neighbouring country escape the purview of the treaty.
We can start by promoting the involvement of the commission at an early stage when projects have trans-boundary implications. The commission does not make crazy recommendations; if Alaska alleges harm originating in a B.C. mine, it is not up to B.C. to decide whether or not this ought to be reviewed under the treaty.
If such an allegation is unfounded, the commission will quickly determine so. What better stamp of approval than the imprimatur of the commission? Canada needs to get seriously involved in the Columbia River Treaty negotiations. The U.S. state department is. Also, start taking an interest in the RRVWS project, as there are several unanswered questions related to the degree of protection necessary to safeguard Manitoba waters.
The risk potential is significantly higher than was the case of the Northwest Area Water Supply project (NAWS). Manitoba spent 15 years in U.S. courts, not to stop that project, but to successfully affirm that Canadian concerns had to be taken into account. Had NAWS been reviewed under the treaty, an outcome beneficial to both countries would have been reached years earlier and millions of dollars would have been saved.
And what of Manitoba? It is, of course, unthinkable that our government is sitting on its haunches while pipe is about to be laid that will join the Missouri and Red rivers.
We must assume that provincial officials are in contact with our department of foreign affairs, urging immediate and forceful federal involvement, and also in communication with the Bureau of Reclamation to determine how to relate to its review process.
Hopefully, they will reveal their strategy to us soon.
Norman Brandson was deputy minister of the former Manitoba departments of environment, water stewardship and conservation from 1990 to 2006.
Salmon Beyond Borders’ Suggestions for British Columbia's Environmental Assessment Public Engagement Survey
Salmon Beyond Borders’ Suggestions for
British Columbia's Environmental Assessment Public Engagement Survey
*to download this document as a PDF, click here.
This survey is 30 questions long and takes approximately 30 minutes to complete. Our hope is that by providing some suggestions, we can help guide your answers to reflect the need for rigorous environmental assessments in shared transboundary watersheds.
If you have ample time, please also see the attached briefing packet from West Coast Environmental Law prior to tackling the survey.
Additionally, if you want to let BC know how you feel about this form of public engagement, let them know, take the survey here!
Questions 1-7 are predominantly focused on who you are and what your background is.
The rest of the questions from the survey can be found below, with our suggestions listed in bold.
8. Please indicate how much you agree with the following statement:There are project categories that should be added to the Reviewable Projects Regulation.
9. Please share with us what project category(s) should be added to the RPR
*Only answer this question if the following conditions are met: Answer was 'Strongly agree' or 'Agree' at question '8 [q008]' (Please indicate how much you agree with the following statement: There are project categories that should be added to the Reviewable Projects Regulation. )
10. Please share with us why the project category(s) should be added to the RPR
11. Please indicate how much you agree with the following:
The Reviewable Projects Regulation includes some project categories that should be removed from the Regulation
*When SBB did the survey, it jumped from Question 11 to Question 14, skipping 12-13.
14. Please indicate how much you agree with the following:
Project Design thresholds are an important factor to determine if a project is likely to cause adverse effects, and therefore trigger an environmental assessment.
15. Please indicate how much you agree with the following:
Project design thresholds are enough information to determine if a project is likely to cause adverse effects, and therefor trigger an environmental assessment
16. Do you have any feedback on the proposed changes to the Project Design Thresholds outlined in the Intentions Paper on pages 13-20 (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/download/FDD409EE186245879E6190531713074D#)
1) Restore the “original” thresholds (i.e. those enacted in 1995 under the first Environmental Assessment Act) for mineral mines and coal mines, namely 25,000 tonnes/year of mineral ore for mineral mines and 100,000 tonnes/year production of coal.
2) Calculate production thresholds based on what is extracted from the environment, not what the proponent intends to sell.
3) BC must provide the data necessary to evaluate whether the proposed new threshold for placer mines would actually result in assessment of any placer mines. Ultimately, the threshold must ensure that placer mines with potentially significant impacts undergo assessment.
4) Abandon the proposal to exempt oil and gas proponents from assessments for extracting deep groundwater and disposing of contaminated water in deep wells.
5) Include a class assessment of mobile thermal treatment of drilling mud, rather than exempting it from assessment.
17. Please tell us how much you agree with the following:
Effects Thresholds are an important factor to determine if a project is likely to cause adverse effects, and therefore trigger an environmental assessment.
18. Are there Effects Thresholds other than linear disturbance, area land disturbance, green house gas emissions, or overlap with prescribed protected areas that could be used to determine the potential adverse impacts of a project, based solely on the project design or features of a project? The criteria must be able to be determined without a lot of testing or data collection.
19. Do you have any feedback on the Effects thresholds outlined on page 21 of the Intentions paper
1) GHG threshold at 50,000 tonnes/year; our fallback is that, at minimum, it must be 1% of BC’s 2050 target, which would be weaker at 127,000 tonnes/year (but still a lot better than their proposal of 1% of the 2030 target, which is 382,000 tonnes/yr). Any project that exceeds 1% of BC's 2050 climate target rather than using the 2030 target. Apply this threshold to all projects of any type, not just the categories of projects already listed in the RPR.
2) Significantly lower the proposed disturbance-based threshold for prescribed projects to 75 hectares.
3) Apply the new (strengthened) impact-based thresholds to upstream development activities (oil and gas and mining).
4) Remove the provision exempting water uses approved under section 10 of the Water Sustainability Act from the assessment requirement for water withdrawals.
5) Remove the requirement to determine significant adverse effects from the threshold that would require EA for prescribed projects that overlap with a listed protected area.
20. Please indicate how much you agree with the following:
Requiring proponents to submit a notification to the EAO if the project:
a) requires a federal impact assessment, but it is not wholly on federal land are within 15% of the Project Design Threshold
or b) has a maximum annual direct employment of at least 250 people is enough to ensure the EAO can track projects that might require an environmental assessment that do not meet the requirements of the reviewable project regulation.
21. Please indicate how much you agree with the following:
For projects that have never received an Environmental Assessment (EA) Certificate (i.e., they were either initially constructed prior to the rest Environmental Assessment Act coming into force in 1995, or below the EA reviewability thresholds), the proponent should be required to notify the EAO if they intend to modify the project, where the modified project would exceed the threshold for new projects in that category.
22. Are there other notification thresholds that could help the EAO track projects that might require an environmental assessment, but do not meet the requirements of the Reviewable Projects Regulation?
23. Would you like to provide feedback on the Prescribed Protected Areas Appendix of the Reviewable Projects Regulation Intentions Paper? *
24. Please indicate how much you agree with the following:
Making environmental assessments mandatory for projects within the Prescribed Category of Projects that are proposed within a Prescribed Protected Area, is a good way to get proponents to consider how their proposed projects could interact with protected areas from the earliest stages of project design, providing an opportunity for proponents to adjust their design to avoid overlaps with prescribed areas, therefore minimizing adverse effects.
25. Are there other ways the Environmental Assessment Ofce could get proponents to consider how their proposed projects could interact with protected areas from the earliest stages of project design?
26. Do you have any feedback on the proposed Prescribed Protected Areas for inclusion in the regulation?
27. Do you have any feedback on the protected or managed areas not proposed for inclusion?
Let the British Columbia Environmental Assessment Office know what you think, take the survey here!
SALMON BEYOND BORDERS is a campaign driven by sport and commercial fishermen, community leaders, tourism and recreation business owners and concerned citizens, in collaboration with Tribes and First Nations, united across the Alaska/British Columbia border to defend and sustain our transboundary rivers, jobs and way of life.
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