Listen To The River, And Then Fight For It!
Today’s guest blog about the #6 Boundary Waters- a part of our America’s Most Endangered Rivers® series- is from Steve Piragis. Steve and his wife, Nancy, own and operate Piragis Northwoods Company in Ely, Minnesota. Piragis Northwoods Company is, among other things, an outfitter for canoe trips into the Boundary Waters and one of the largest employers in the small town, employing 20 people year round and 40 people during the busy summer months.
Somehow rivers speak to us… don’t they?
More than placid lakes that lie still and demur asking only to be respected, rivers demand your attention. Spring whirlpools turn to summer’s lazy meanders and the surface for transporting leaf boats to the sea in fall. Lakes seem safe in winter for us to ski or fish or camp, but rivers have the unpredictable personality that tempts us to take a chance.
It’s the headwaters of big rivers that I love the most. Small streams merge into medium streams. Rocks, not mud, dominate the benthos. Hatches of midges and stoneflies emerge from cold waters. Then the best of all— the dragonflies of June walk out on a rock and unzip themselves down the back, unfurl their wings, and set sail in the fragrant air of a blooming June day.
Such is the mood and the temperament of the Kawishiwi River winding its way thru the heart of America’s canoe wilderness, the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. How could a wilderness river be threatened when it has survived so pure for twelve thousand years since its birth under glacial ice?
This aquatic gem, flowing tea amber from bogs and lakes that lie within the Precambrian bedrock, has a small problem. More than a billion years before the last glacier melted, during a time of uproar within the crust of the earth, the wild Algoma Highlands were being injected with magma from deep within the earth’s mantle. The magma was rich in metal ions hot to mate with the sulfur atoms in the rock that the magma was invading. This marriage made in hell lay dormant through a quarter of the earth’s life… until now.
Now the sulfur-bound metals are immensely valuable to humans. We, the members of the technology culture, have an insatiable appetite for metal. The Kawishiwi River’s problem is that these metals are sleeping in the crust just below the river, and are being awakened by the core drillers taking biopsies to assess their riches.
Metals captured in a sulfide marriage underground get divorced quickly when brought up to the light of day and exposed to the rain and wind. The metals quickly escape into the river as sulfuric acid and loose metal ions. The river suffers when plants and frogs and fish burn out on the acid or suck up the metals and become toxic to predators.
It’s rather simple isn’t it?
Don’t risk the life of one of the world’s most pure rivers flowing through the heart of the most loved wilderness to feed the unquenchable appetite of this culture. The river deserves our love and our willingness to fight for it; even to commit to use less metals ourselves and enjoy our brief lives on this enduring planet in the company of a river with personality- a river with life, liberty, and purity- a river like the Kawishiwi.