JUNEAU - Alaska officials and authorities in the Canadian province of British Columbia have announced they have completed and will not continue data collection on three transboundary watersheds, despite concerns from fishing and tribal interests that the effort does not go far enough.
The work stemmed from concerns about possible impacts mining activity in Canada could have on waters that cross into Alaska. A 22-page final report released Thursday culminated two years of data collected from water, sediment and fish tissue from three bodies of water.
The report said two years of data showed that the waters studied met quality standards on Alaska’s side of the border. There were times when heavy metals were over the limit in the sediment, but the report said there are a lot of naturally occurring minerals in the region, CoastAlaska reported.
Now Alaska and British Columbia have said their work is done.
“Given the existence of other sampling programs planned by state, federal or provincial agencies throughout the transboundary region, there is no need to continue the joint program,” the state and province said in a joint statement.
British Columbia officials like Greg Tamblyn, who works in the regional water quality section at British Columbia’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, said the program has become redundant.
Congress had appropriated more than $3 million for renewed stream monitoring, CoastAlaska reported.
“With all the resources, didn’t feel like it was necessary for multiple agencies to be collecting the same thing,” said Terri Lomax, a program manager with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Critics such as some local tribes, fishermen and scientists have argued that the governments have not done enough to ensure water quality is adequate.
United Fishermen of Alaska, a group representing commercial fishing interests, said the state is not taking its responsibility seriously enough.
The Taku and Stikine are significant salmon producing rivers that have struggled in recent years, CoastAlaska reported. The fisheries provide an important food source for southeast Alaska residents, the outlet reported.
“We have made every attempt possible to engage the State of Alaska on this issue, and the fact that they arrived at these premature conclusions is a disservice to Alaskans and the fishing communities of Southeast Alaska,” United Fishermen executive director Frances Leach said in a statement. “We need our federal delegation to elevate this issue to the highest levels.”
Some scientists who study the watersheds have said that several years of water studies is not enough to properly measure health.
“You can’t measure a given site once or twice a year for two years and claim that you know the baseline watershed health of that area,” said Chris Sergeant, a freshwater ecologist at the University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station.
Tlingit & Haida Tribal Vice President Will Micklin argued that the state and province’s data set is not comprehensive enough.
“It is one step forward, it is not the end of the journey,” Micklin said.