Alaska and British Columbia take step to protect shared waters

Alaska and British Columbia on Thursday took another step in cooperating to protect waters that flow between the Canadian province and the Last Frontier state.

Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, British Columbia Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett, and British Columbia Minister of Environment Mary Polak signed a statement of cooperation Thursday, implementing part of a memorandum of understanding the state and province signed almost a year ago to protect transboundary waters.

The goal of the cooperation statement is strengthened collaboration and cooperation between Alaska and British Columbia on initiatives to protect shared waterways, including collecting baseline water quality data, finding opportunities for tribes, the federal government and Alaska to be more involved in the environmental review of transboundary projects, and ensuring access to environmental information about closed and operating mines and other significant commercial developments in the cross-border region.

Alaska's congressional delegation in September asked the U.S. State Department to focus on transboundary issues, specifically "to address the downstream risks that mining in British Columbia may pose to Alaska and Alaskans," U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said on her website.

Also earlier this year, a report from the auditor general of British Columbia found regulatory oversight of mining there was inadequate. A dam failure at gold and copper mine Mount Polley in the Canadian province in 2014 also raised red flags about cross-border water contamination from mining when it released about "25 million cubic (meters) of wastewater and tailings into adjacent water systems and lakes," according to that auditor's report.

A working group composed of commissioners from three major Alaska state departments, along with the deputy ministers of the British Columbia Ministries of Energy and Mines and Environment, will oversee the implementation of the statement of cooperation.

Neither the memorandum nor the statement of cooperation are legally binding documents.

Annie Zak

Annie Zak was a business reporter for the ADN between 2015 and 2019.