Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student, Joseph DiStefano, makes this connection here by discussing the political and environmental effects of international pollution, specifically the pollution of the Columbia River watershed by Teck Resources Limited in Trail, British Columbia, Canada.

On October 10th, 2012, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC News) posted an article titled “Teck battles U.S. pollution lawsuit for Trail smelter.” This article reports on the dangerous water quality of the Columbia River due to pollution from the Canadian mining company, Teck Resources Ltd.  After a lengthy lawsuit involving both the US EPA and US Native American Tribes in addition to Canadian officials, Teck admitted to polluting “millions of tons of toxic waste” over the timespan of more than 100 years. The toxic waste being dumped in this case includes arsenic, cadmium, copper, mercury, lead and zinc. This story depicts water resource engineering in a very interesting way. For what is stated in the article, I believe it accurately depicts water resource engineering facts.  What the article left out is the method Teck Resources is going to use to measure the downstream pollution.

This issue is connected to the environmental, economic, and global context of engineering hydrology and hydraulics. Clearly millions of tons of toxic waste are going to have an environmental impact. This can affect anything from the ability of wildlife to grow in and around the water, to the eutrophication of the body of water. The decision that was reached was that Teck Resources agreed to conduct and pay for testing of the Columbia River to determine their influence on the Columbia River downstream. This has an economic effect. When companies are held responsible for their environmental impact, the private market will adapt and grow accordingly. Lastly, because this lawsuit was brought up based on the claim of a Native American tribe, there is a global implication. When the Canadian company is held responsible for the pollution in Canada that flowed into American and Native American waters, it set a standard for how America and Canada deals with global pollution. Similarly, the Mexican city, Nuevo Laredo, was held responsible for pollution into the Rio Grande River. A 13-year-old boy was found dead due to 24 million gallons per day of residential and industrial waste being dumped into the river. (NYT 1994) This, in addition to the pollution of Teck Resources, caused significant changes in the way the United States EPA deals with international pollution.

References:

“Texas City Says Rio Grande Pollution Can Cause Fatal Illness.” The New York Times. The New York Times,  14 Aug. 1994. Web. 01 Apr. 2013.

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