Fight to protect Washington waters from Canadian mines continues after Skagit Headwaters bill stalls in legislature

Fight to protect Washington waters from Canadian mines continues after Skagit Headwaters bill stalls in legislature

Conservation Northwest / Apr 30, 2020 / Healthy Watersheds, Legislation

Work continues to protect Skagit Headwaters and other international watersheds

The Washington State Legislature ended its short 2020 session without passing legislation to urge British Columbia (B.C.) to better protect Washington’s rivers from the impact of mines upstream in Canada. We’re disappointed in this outcome, but remain committed to protecting international watersheds from risky mining projects through our Healthy Watersheds Campaign, and collaboration with indigenous and conservation partners.

The headwaters of Silverdaisy Creek in the-upper Skagit Donut Hole. Photo: Wilderness Committee

The session started with a bill having already passed the Senate last year. That bill, Senate Joint Memorial 8014, was focused solely on the threat of mining in the unprotected “Donut Hole” on the B.C. side of the upper Skagit River Valley, known as the Skagit Headwaters.

This bill, sponsored by Senator John McCoy, was identical to one introduced this year by Representative Debra Lekanoff. The House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, and Natural Resources held a hearing on SJM 8014 in which only supporters, including Conservation Northwest and Seattle City Light, testified. The committee passed the bill, though only after watering it down. The bill then never made it to a vote on the House floor, and so died.

Read more about this issue our February op-ed in The Seattle Times

The later days of the 2020 legislative session experienced the turmoil of the coronavirus outbreak. The pandemic also understandably consumed the office of Governor Jay Inslee. Unfortunately, a memorial to send a message to British Columbia regarding transboundary threats from mining disasters never regained traction, despite more than 990 people contacting legislators through our action alert

When things stabilize, we will resume work with both the Governor’s office and Representative Lekanoff with the objective of two letters being sent to B.C. Premier John Horgan. One would be a letter from Governor Inslee, the other would be signed by the chairs of the House and Senate committees with environmental portfolios.

Conservation Northwest is also engaging with the governments of several Washington-based tribes whose lands and resources are downstream of mining activity in B.C. We are encouraging and supporting the councils of these tribes to pass resolutions calling on B.C. to better regulate those mines to protect the environment.

Conservation Northwest is also planning for an outreach effort for coming months, aimed at informing and engaging communities on both sides of the border that are effected by mines and mining waste from Canada.

Thank you to everyone who took action on this important issue. We’ll keep you posted as new opportunities arise.

Read more about protecting Washington’s watersheds from Canadian mines in this Seattle Times op-ed, this blog from our Executive Director, or our webpage
Forests and watersheds have yet to recover after the 2014 Mount Polley Mine disaster. Stronger regulations and financial assurances are needed to protect against future mining spills in transboundary watersheds. Photo: J. Mack