International Joint Commission Activated in Elk-Kootenai/y Watershed


Washington, D.C. / Ottawa, Ontario The International Joint Commission is pleased to receive a request from the governments of Canada and the United States, in partnership with the Ktunaxa Nation, to carry out certain actions outlined in the reference letters and attachments addressing the impacts of transboundary water pollution in the Elk-Kootenai/y Watershed. The watershed is located in the province of British Columbia, and in the states of Montana and Idaho. 

These actions include assisting in the establishment of a collaborative governance body that will, among other things, develop and report on an action plan to reduce and mitigate the impacts of water pollution in the Kootenai/y watershed in order to protect the people and species that depend on this vital river system. Further actions include: convening an IJC study board comprised of experts and knowledge holders to conduct and synthesize transparent and coordinated transboundary knowledge sharing on contaminants of concern; areas and water and ecological resources affected; and trends. The study board will seek opportunities for public engagement. 

Established under the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty between Canada and the United States, the Commission employs joint science-based fact-finding as a foundation for building consensus and determining appropriate action. 

The reference to address the impacts of transboundary water pollution in the Elk-Kootenai/y Watershed will form the basis of the Commission’s efforts. This reference from governments is pursuant to Article IX of the Boundary Waters Treaty.

United States Commission Chair Gerald Acker indicated “the Commission welcomes the opportunity to assist governments to help find ways to reduce and mitigate the impacts of water pollution in the Kootenai Basin and to collaborate with all interested parties in doing so. Our ability to provide objective, expert analysis and recommendations is proven and we expect nothing less in this case.”

The Commission’s Canadian Chair Merrell-Ann Phare noted that “water quality concerns in this watershed have been present for decades and we are pleased that the IJC has been tasked to work on this matter further to a consensus reached between Canada, the United States, and the Ktunaxa Nation. Governance innovation with Indigenous Peoples will be a key component to our success.” 

The Commission will facilitate the governance body, set up a study board and will maintain open dialogue with federal and Ktunaxa governments, the province of British Columbia and the states of Idaho and Montana, along with the public throughout the related upcoming activities over the next two years. We will hold initial meetings in the basin in the coming months to allow interested parties to provide their thoughts and perspectives. 

We encourage interested parties to follow us on social media and to visit our website, at, to gather the latest information and to locate resources related to this Reference. Questions and comments can be submitted to Elk-Kootenai-y

Quick Facts

  • The Elk River rises in the Canadian Rockies and flows into the United States at Lake Koocanusa, an impoundment of the Kootenay/Kootenai River. It then flows through the states of Montana and Idaho, and Ktunaxa lands, then back to the province of British Columbia.
  • The Commission has been contacted by agencies, public and Indigenous communities indicating water quality issues have reached a critical stage as stated in a May 2022 IJC letter to governments. 


United States:  Ed Virden, IJC Public Affairs Officer, 202-372-7990, 

Canada: Paul Allen, Manager of Policy and Communications, 613-222-1475,