U.S. and Canadian Governments take key step with Ktunaxa Nation to address pollution in the Elk-Kootenai watershed, protecting clean water, wildlife, and communities

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today the United States and Canada announced joint action, in partnership with Tribal Nations and Indigenous Peoples, to reduce and mitigate the impacts of transboundary water pollution in the Elk-Kootenai watershed and protect the people and species that depend on this vital river system. This delivers on President Biden’s and Prime Minister Trudeau’s commitment to reach an agreement on this longstanding issue.

The United States and Canada are requesting that the International Joint Commission (IJC), established by the Boundary Water Treaty of 1909, review and recommend actions to address water pollution in the Elk-Kootenai transboundary watershed. The 18,000-square-mile watershed, which stretches across parts of British Columbia, Montana, and Idaho, is the second largest source of water flowing into the Columbia River. It is also the homeland of the Tribes and First Nations that together form the transboundary Ktunaxa Nation. For over a decade, the Ktunaxa Nation has requested that the U.S. and Canadian governments address pollution that has impaired downstream communities, fish populations, and ecosystems.

“The Elk-Kootenai watershed is crucial to the well-being of communities in the United States, Canada, and the Ktunaxa Nation. Under President Biden’s leadership, we are taking long-awaited, collaborative action to address pollution and restore clean water for the region,” said Brenda Mallory, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “This joint reference will jumpstart efforts, guided by science, to protect our shared environment across international borders. I look forward to ongoing partnerships with Canada and the Ktunaxa Nation to live up to our responsibilities to all who live downstream.”

“After working collaboratively with Canada for over a hundred years to co-manage our shared waters under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 and other treaties, we are celebrating a binational win for these waters, and for the communities, the people, and the wildlife that depend on them,” said Rachel Poynter, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State.

“EPA supports the joint reference to the IJC and will continue working with Tribal Nations and Indigenous People to protect this vital river system,” said Jane Nishida, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Assistant Administrator for International and Tribal Affairs. “EPA believes the IJC reference will ensure a transparent assessment of water pollution in the Elk-Kootenai watershed and actions to reduce pollution impacts on fisheries and Tribal cultural and natural resources.”

Today’s joint reference by the U.S. and Canada, in partnership with the Ktunaxa Nation, is a key first step in kicking off meaningful, transparent further actions to address pollution in the Elk-Kootenai watershed. The nations are requesting that the IJC move quickly to convene experts and provide tangible recommendations to mitigate the impacts of water pollution. The panel will include representatives from the United States, Canada, the Ktunaxa Nation, Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia.

The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to respecting and upholding Tribal sovereignty, protecting Tribal homelands, and uplifting and integrating Indigenous Knowledge. Today’s action reflects President Biden’s leadership to achieve transboundary cooperation to protect clean water and advance a historic conservation and environmental justice agenda.

The joint reference comes on the heels of the Biden-Harris Administration announcing a historic agreement between Pacific Northwest Tribes and States to restore wild salmon, steelhead, and other native fish populations in the Columbia River Basin.

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