Threat of mining pollution puts Boundary Waters on annual list of threatened rivers

Canoeing in the Boundary Waters (Photo by Steve Piragis)
Canoeing in the Boundary Waters (Photo by Steve Piragis)

For the second time, the national advocacy group American Rivers has included the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on its annual list of the 10 most endangered rivers in the country.

South Kawishiwi River, map courtesy USGS
South Kawishiwi River, map courtesy USGS

Naming the South Kawishiwi River as critically threatened by the Twin Metals mining proposal and other mineral exploration, the wilderness repeats an appearance on the list in 2013 for the same reason. Significant developments in the issue have come since then, including protective measures in 2016, and attempts to roll those actions back in 2017 and 2018.

Copper-nickel mining presents several risks to the region’s water, from sulfate in discharge to the potential for a catastrophic spill of acidic water laden with heavy metals and dangerous chemicals.

A call for conservation

Mining companies have vowed strict environmental protections will ensure the safety of the wilderness, but advocates say the industry’s track record shows an inability to meet those promises. American Rivers said the Boundary Waters is “uniquely vulnerable” because of its network of clean waters and its chemistry which can’t buffer acidity.

“This is a critical year for the people of this region to decide what kind of future we want for our rivers and clean water,” said Jessie Thomas-Blate with American Rivers. “Ruining the Boundary Waters’ untouched ecosystem and endangering the 27,000 jobs it supports is out of line with Minnesota’s values. It’s a risk that Minnesotans simply cannot afford.”

The organization called on the Trump Administration and Congress to permanently protect the Boundary Waters and not weaken laws and water quality standards that would put it in danger.

An action alert accompanying the announcement urged wilderness advocates to contact their elected officials and ask them to uphold a proposed 20-year ban on mining in the watershed of the wilderness. The agency started examining the possibility of such a moratorium in the waning days of the Obama administration — since then, there have been efforts in Congress and federal agencies to stop the study and expedite mining approval.

The river and wilderness advocates say the Forest Service must be allowed to perform a “rigorous, unbiased and science-based environmental study” of the potential impacts of mining, and recommend Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke instate the 20-year ban.

American Rivers has produced the Most Endangered Rivers report for 33 years. The list includes rivers facing key decisions in the year ahead. Rivers are picked based on the following criteria: 1) The magnitude of the threat, 2) The significance of the river to people and nature, and 3) A critical decision-point in the coming year.

Get Quetico Superior Wilderness News straight to your inbox

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap