Boundary Waters Among America’s Most Endangered Rivers
Copper-Nickel Mining Threatens Water Quality in World-Class Recreation AreaApril 17th, 2013
Jessie Thomas-Blate, American Rivers, 202-347-7550
Becky Rom, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, 218-365-5399 or 612-961-1059
Betsy Daub, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, 612-332-9630
Paul Schurke, Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge, 218-365-6022
Washington, D.C.- American Rivers named the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2013 today, shining a national spotlight on a proposed copper nickel mine that would release toxic waste into the South Kawishiwi River, threatening fish and wildlife, drinking water quality, and a world class recreation area.
“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that are facing a critical tipping point,” said Jessie Thomas-Blate of American Rivers. “We all need healthy rivers. They provide our drinking water, support the economies of our communities, and promote public health and quality of life. We hope citizens will take action to ensure a healthy Boundary Waters for generations to come.”
The Boundary Waters is threatened by a proposed copper nickel mine near the South Kawishiwi River, a popular entry point to the Boundary Waters wilderness area and a source of drinking water for Minnesota residents and visitors. The mine, proposed within the Superior National Forest and just outside the wilderness area, would produce large quantities of waste rock, sulfuric acid, and a variety of toxic metals. Polluted runoff from the mine poses a public health concern because of fish and drinking water contamination and threatens the Boundary Waters ecosystem.
American Rivers and its partners called on President Obama, Congress, and Minnesota’s Governor Dayton to block mines and proposals to weaken water quality standards in this sensitive and well-loved area, and to expand mining protection zones around the Boundary Waters.
“Minnesota business owners recognize that the pollution that inevitably follows metallic sulfide mining poses a major risk to the area’s tourism-based economy,” said Becky Rom, of Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, a local organization that advocates for the protection of the Quetico-Superior ecosystem.
“The Boundary Waters is a unique and beloved wilderness of lakes of rivers,” said Betsy Daub, policy director of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. “The region should not be a guinea pig for risky new mines, which have never before operated without causing serious water pollution.”
Paul Schurke, co-owner of Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge with his wife Sue, said, “the South Kawishiwi River and the many lakes it flows through, including the one our lodge is on, is the lifeblood of our region’s tourism economy. If metal sulfide mining pollutes the Kawishiwi watershed as it has 40 percent of the watersheds in the western U.S., it will devastate our community and damage the Boundary Waters, our nation’s most popular and beloved wilderness area.”
Canoe trip outfitter Steve Piragis, who with his wife, Nancy, owns Piragis Northwoods Company said, “I’m concerned that damage to the South Kawishiwi will pollute up to 65 miles of the Boundary Waters’ most popular canoe routes, from Fall Lake to Basswood and Lac La Croix, including a key segment of the historic water highway along the US-Canada border.”
Jane and Steve Koschak own and operate River Point Resort and Outfitting Company. Jane stated, “If mining commences, water pollution would threaten our businesses, as well as the dozens of resorts and BWCA canoe outfitters downstream from River Point, all the way to Voyageurs National Park and on to the Lake of the Woods. This 300 mile-long water rich recreational area from the South Kawishiwi River to the Manitoba border makes our region an eco-tourism treasure that must be preserved and protected from the toxic and destructive dangers of metallic sulfide mining. This is one of the world’s most special places, and as such, sulfide metal mining is totally incongruous with it.”
The Boundary Waters has high recreational, ecological, cultural, and economic value. The beautiful landscape of forests, lakes, and rivers of the Boundary Waters has historically attracted as many as 250,000 visitors annually. The Boundary Waters is a popular fishing destination for walleye, northern pike, and smallmouth bass. Wolves, lynx, moose, bear, loons, bald eagles, and osprey inhabit this area. The Boundary Waters is protected for Native American cultural values and use of hunting, fishing, and gathering rice. The U.S. Forest Service has estimated that the Superior National Forest contributes $500 million to the regional economy each year, of which $100 million is attributed to the Boundary Waters. The South Kawishiwi River is a critical waterway in this great wilderness and an important canoe route and Boundary Waters entry point. The significance of this river is underscored by four protected research sites in the area.
The Annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.