Sulfuric Acid Can Really Ruin a Vacation
Many of us fondly remember the children’s book Paddle to the Sea, in which a native boy carves a toy model of an Indian in a canoe and sets it free to travel from Lake Nipigon through Lake Superior to the St. Lawrence Seaway. I was captivated by the adventures along the way – wild animals, sawmills, ship’s locks, forest fires, shipwrecks – but the story was also my introduction to the concept of watersheds.
The tiny canoe traverses the world’s largest freshwater system, the Great Lakes watershed. That incredible flowage connects our canoe country with the Atlantic Ocean. Sadly, it’s also now one of our continent’s key watersheds that may be impacted by sulfuric acid pollution from copper-nickel mining.
Now one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®, the South Kawishiwi watershed begins in our beloved Boundary Waters and ends in the Arctic Ocean. It’s one I’ve explored not through tales of a toy canoe, but through our dogsled and ski adventures. Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge, our family’s home and eco-tourism business near Ely, Minnesota, is located in this river basin.
The Kawishiwi River, which lies within Superior National Forest and straddles the protected Boundary Waters wilderness area, ranks among the most pristine in Minnesota – and the country. It’s also now “ground zero” for the potential impacts of the copper-nickel industry. Hardrock mining, the nation’s most polluting industry, has damaged over 40% of the watersheds in the western U.S., and now has its sights set on one of America’s cleanest. Test drilling for the proposed Twin Metals mine is taking place along its shores.
Toxic contaminants from copper-nickel mining that enter the Kawishiwi River would be dispersed through the Ely area’s prime tourism and residential lakes (Birch, White Iron, Farm, Garden, and Fall) and the popular western Boundary Waters border lakes (Basswood, Crooked, and Lac La Croix). Pollutants would continue on through Voyageurs National Park, Rainy Lake, the Rainy River, and Lake of the Woods – which all rank among the region’s most prized areas for fishing and recreation.
The fish and wildlife, towns and villages, and state, national, and provincial recreational areas along that 1,200-mile U.S.-Canada waterway from the Kawishiwi River to the sea will all be threatened by the dangers of metal sulfide mining. The sulfuric acid pollution that inevitably results from copper-nickel mining is toxic to fisheries, wildlife, and water supplies, and would be devastating to the tourism economy on which my family and so many others in our region depend.