Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Transboundary Watersheds Roundtable Held in Juneau

A roundtable discussion on transboundary watershed issues convened in Juneau on Monday, Aug. 5, to educate new members of the International Joint Commission about Alaska’s transboundary, salmon-rich watersheds.

The IJC, guided by the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, is tasked with investigating transboundary issues and recommending solutions for the United States and Canada. The roundtable included representatives of federal and state agencies, commercial fisheries, miners and Alaska legislators. It is the latest effort of Alaska’s congressional delegation get the federal governments of the U.S. and Canada to agree on a meeting of the IJC for a broad review of the cumulative impacts of more than a dozen large-scale open- pit mine projects that British Columbia is pursuing on transboundary waterways flowing downstream into Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage.

The session was convened by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who noted that Alaska’s congressional delegation has been pushing the State Department for more than seven years to engage with their Canadian counterparts on transboundary watershed issues. “The more people we can educate on this issue, the better -especially those serving at high levels in our government,” she said. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, also participated.

Murkowski’s primary concerns include having a management framework in place to ensure that mines near transboundary rivers are permitted in a way that consider cumulative impacts of these mines on the watersheds, that there is proper oversight for the mines and that they are sufficiently bonded to cover cleanup and remediation at the end of their lifespan.

Jill Weitz, director of Salmon Beyond Borders in Juneau, said that contamination of shared transboundary rivers is an international problem requiring an international solution, and she was gratified that commissioners of the IJC were finally hearing Alaskans’ concerns. “It’s a diplomatic process that requires a lot of negotiations between the two governments and I think there is a case building for the IJC to convene on this issue,” she said. “We are still not there, but this is an important first step in engaging the IJC.”

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