America’s Most Endangered Rivers for 2013: Boundary Waters
At Risk: Recreation economy, drinking water, and wilderness
Threat: Copper and nickel mining
The 1.1 million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is the most popular wilderness area in the country. The South Kawishiwi River, which flows into the Boundary Waters, is threatened by copper-nickel mining proposals by Twin Metals Minnesota and others on adjacent unprotected public lands.
If mining is permitted, the Boundary Waters and its clean water will be irreparably harmed by acid mine drainage containing sulfates and heavy metals. President Obama, Congress, and Minnesota’s Governor Dayton must block proposals to mine and efforts to weaken water quality standards in this sensitive and well-loved area.
The Boundary Waters is endangered by a proposal to create a massive copper-nickel mine adjacent to the South Kawishiwi River and within two miles of the Boundary Waters. The Boundary Waters watershed is also negatively impacted by extensive exploration for additional mine sites. If copper-nickel mines are developed, polluted waters from the South Kawishiwi will flow through some of the most popular Boundary Waters lakes, including the iconic Basswood.
According to the EPA (Toxic Release Inventory: 2010 National Analysis), hardrock mining produces more releases of toxic materials than any other industry. Approximately 99% of the rock extracted in the proposed mine will be waste. When this waste rock interacts with water and air, sulfuric acid and toxic metals will be released. Similar mines throughout America generate hundreds of millions of gallons of acid mine drainage and will require active water treatment for thousands of years to avoid complete destruction of streams and groundwater.
With the Boundary Waters and Superior National Forest as a magnet, vibrant local economies have developed in Ely, Grand Marais, and other communities around the Wilderness. Large numbers of vacation home owners, retirees, and quality-of-life residents provide an economic and tax base for the area. Scores of diverse businesses thrive because of the economic activity generated by tourism and residents attracted to the region. Poisoning of the Boundary Waters would drastically, if not fatally, undermine these thriving local economies.
What Must Be Done
This year, Congress may consider an exchange of Superior National Forest lands with state lands for the purpose of promoting copper-nickel mining. The State of Minnesota will auction mineral leases on lands within the watershed of the Boundary Waters, and efforts to challenge state and federal water quality regulations will intensify. These actions will advance the development of sulfide mines and lead to more mineral exploration and mining pollution within the Boundary Waters watershed. Recent polls in Minnesota have revealed a growing concern among the public. The Boundary Waters ecosystem with its network of lakes, streams, and forests is a high-risk location for a copper-nickel mine. This is an area where sulfide mining pollution is unacceptable.
President Obama, Congress, and Minnesota’s Governor Dayton must oppose the development of the massive Twin Metals Minnesota mine, all land exchanges intended to turn over public lands to mining companies, and state mineral leasing within the Boundary Waters watershed. Further, they must defend a healthy Boundary Waters region by strengthening and enforcing Minnesota and federal water quality regulations and expanding mining protection zones around the Boundary Waters.