Mines Researchers Study Kootenai River Pollutants in Montana, Other Areas

South Dakota Mines student Emily Stickney conducts research on pollutants in the Kootenai River in Montana

A recent award by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is funding South Dakota School of Mines & Technology research on how changes in land use increase pollutants and influence the health of the Kootenai River and Lake Koocanusa in Montana, Idaho and British Columbia.

Recent land use changes in the Kootenai River watershed include increased coal mining and alterations to agricultural practices.

Dr. Lisa Kunza of the Department of Chemistry & Applied Biological Sciences, is heading a collaborative research team that includes students, other university partners, and agency collaborators. The team has already received $160,000 and is expecting to receive up to $400,000 for its efforts over the next five years.

Selenium and nitrate loads are on the rise in the Kootenai River as it enters Lake Koocanusa. Selenium is a metal found in natural deposits and may be exposed during mining activity. In 2012 alone, selenium loads into the river exceeded 29,000 pounds, a five-fold increase since 1992. There is heightened concern about possible buildup of selenium in fish tissue. Nitrate loads have increased substantially as well and may alter the resources available for fisheries. 

Endangered Kootenai White Sturgeon and other organisms in the river and reservoir could also be affected by the pollutants.

Emily Stickney from Boise, Idaho, is among the undergraduate and graduate student researchers who will have a significant role in the research.

Stickney, who is pursuing a master’s degree in atmospheric and environmental sciences, will have the opportunity to spend the summer in Montana collecting data for her thesis. After graduation in 2018, she plans to study environmental law.

Research is being conducted in collaboration with the University of Wyoming, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, Idaho Fish and Game, Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks, Montana Department of Environmental Quality, British Columbia Ministry of the Environment and other stakeholders.

Kunza recently discussed the research with the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho at the International Kootenai River Ecosystem Team meeting.

Last edited 1/17/2017 9:45:02 AM

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