Year of Award


Document Type

Professional Paper

Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism

Department or School/College

School of Journalism

Committee Chair

Ray Ekness

Commitee Members

Nadia White , Lisa Eby


coal mining, selenium, canada, pollution, elk river, trout, british columbia, koocanusa reservoir


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Environmental Studies | International Relations | Journalism Studies


Montana’s Lake Koocanusa sits at the end of a river system that drains Canada’s most productive coal country. Today, the waters of the massive lake contain a mineral called selenium, a poorly understood byproduct of mine waste. This summer, the U.S. federal government will be in a position to declare that the selenium in the lake puts Canada in violation of its international treaty with the U.S. The Montana government, however, is preparing to argue otherwise through its own water analysis. The disagreement has U.S. ecologists frustrated with the state’s position, saying they won’t practice science that is slave to a preordained policy outcome. A 2016 report from the British Columbia Auditor General called out provincial mine regulators for failing to comply with environmental regulations over the past decade, supporting scientists’ assertion that the watershed north of Koocanusa is severely in peril. The issue highlights the ways in which scientists and governments succeed or fail to find common ground in creating science-based policy, and raises the question of how to protect the health of a watershed that flows through two countries.



© Copyright 2016 Celia T. Tobin