The Ministry of Environment is responsible for the effective protection, management and conservation of British Columbia’s water, land, air and living resources

As part of their mandate under the Environmental Management Act, the ministry established the Ambient Water Quality Guidelines for Selenium to protect drinking water, freshwater and marine aquatic life, wildlife and agricultural uses.

These guidelines are province-wide in application, are use-specific, and are developed for some or all of the following specific water uses:

  • Raw drinking, public water supply and food processing
  • Aquatic life and wildlife
  • Agriculture (livestock watering and irrigation)
  • Recreation and aesthetics
  • Industrial (water supplies)
What is Selenium?

Selenium is an essential trace element for animal nutrition. It can also be toxic to plants, animals and humans at higher concentrations. The severity of selenium effects in food and water depends on the amount ingested and the length of exposure.  Selenium is released from some mining waste rock through precipitation, which can flow into water systems such as rivers and lakes.

The B.C. government is working on several solutions for selenium management including revised selenium guidelines, amendments to current permits, and end-of-pipe regulation for proposed expansions.  The Ambient Water Quality Guidelines for Selenium provides detailed information related to acceptable levels, effects from exposure to selenium and application of the guidelines.

Review of Selenium in groundwater

In 2012, the District of Sparwood contracted Franz Environmental Inc. to conduced an independent review of the selenium concentrations in groundwater, surface water, and the municipal water support.  In their report submitted February 28, 2013, Franz concluded that the selenium concentrations in the municipal drinking water did not exceed the applicable BC Contaminated Sites Regulation Drinking Water standard (at that time).   It was recommended that continued sampling and analysis of the three municipal water wells, Elk River and Michel Creek for all of the previously measured parameters was warranted. A consistent sampling schedule will aid in the identification of potential long-term trends of dissolved and total selenium concentrations.

To learn more about selenium and its impacts, please see the Summary Report from the Experts Workshop on the Evaluation and Management of Selenium in the Elk Valley or visit the Ministry of Environment.