Conservation Minnesota has surveyed thousands of Minnesotan’s to find out what issues are most important to them and almost unanimously, Minnesotan’s say they want to protect our clean water and restore our waters that have been damaged. Because your priorities are our mission, we wanted to share with you some news about what is happening on the St. Louis River in northeast Minnesota and what you can do to help.
American Rivers, a national organization dedicated to conserving clean water, protecting wild rivers and restoring damaged rivers, has designated Minnesota’s St. Louis River one of the ten most endangered rivers in the United States. Before describing the threat that earned the St. Louis its endangered status, a description of the river and its watershed would be helpful.
The St. Louis River is the largest U.S. tributary to Lake Superior and flows approximately 190 miles through northeastern Minnesota. Its headwaters are just east of Hoyt Lakes and the mouth forms the worlds largest freshwater estuary where is enters Lake Superior between Duluth, MN and Superior, WI. The watershed of the St. Louis covers 3634 square miles, which includes the Superior National Forest, the Cloquet Valley State Forest and lands of the Lake Superior Chippewa people. The river flows through the Fond du Lac Reservation before it enters Lake Superior and the world’s largest freshwater port in Duluth, MN. The St. Louis River estuary had been degraded by heavy industry in the past, but after an investment of nearly $1 billion and a commitment from local, state and federal agencies, the waters are well on their way to being restored.
The latest threat to the St. Louis comes from proposals for a new type of mining in Minnesota; copper-nickel sulfide mining. Polymet Mining’s proposed NorthMet project would be located in the headwaters of the St. Louis River near Hoyt Lakes. Sulfide mining differs from taconite mining in that the metals sought are encapsulated in sulfide-bearing ore. When exposed to air and moisture, the massive sulfide-bearing waste rock piles produce acid mine drainage (AMD), which is highly acidic and contains toxic metals.
“…this new type of mining is likely to be more damaging to the environment because the copper and nickel are bound up in sulfide-bearing rock, the mining of which commonly results in acid drainage and increases heavy metals and sulfates in downstream waters. Increased sulfate degrades wild rice stands and contributes to the methylation of mercury, which is already present in St. Louis River fish at levels that threaten public health. A 2013 study by the Minnesota Department of Health found that 1 in 10 infants on the North Shore of Lake Superior are born with unsafe levels of mercury in their blood, potentially impairing normal development.” American Rivers
Conservation Minnesota, as part of the Mining Truth coalition, is committed to educating Minnesotan’s about the differences between traditional taconite mining and unproven, high-risk sulfide mining. We are working to inform all Minnesotan’s that while Polymet’s proposed NorthMet mine would be in operation for 20 years, Polymet’s own documentation shows that polluted water from their mining operations would require treatment for 500 years. Armed with the facts, Minnesotan’s can protect the St. Louis River and Lake Superior by insisting on natural resource protection, high environmental standards and taxpayer protection.
You can help protect the St Louis River and the Minnesota we love by following Conservation Minnesota’s web and Facebook sites for the latest information on actions we are taking as well as learning more about the threat from Mining Truth, signing up for email updates, and learning more about American Rivers’ Endangered Rivers Program.