Column: Can clean water and copper mines coexist?This spring I have delighted in traveling mile after mile of quiet county roads by bike. On one recent ride I was surprised by the incredible quantity of water washing about in all directions. I rode north from the Lake, and crested the hill to fields and forests suddenly unlocked from winter’s grip.
This spring I have delighted in traveling mile after mile of quiet county roads by bike. On one recent ride I was surprised by the incredible quantity of water washing about in all directions. I rode north from the Lake, and crested the hill to fields and forests suddenly unlocked from winter’s grip.
Mere days earlier the majority of the landscape was still concealed under snow. The few small areas of grass were crowded with robins and other birds seeking nutrients. Even unshaded south-facing fields were blanketed under clean and pure snow, as if an unpainted canvas with infinite possibilities.
Mailboxes on Roberg Road out in Lakewood were still nearly buried in the snow from the accumulated work of the plow. Several miles away on Jean Duluth Road, I discovered a man slowly snow-blowing a path to his large fishing boat through 3 feet of dense, wet, and heavy snow.
Just three days later, however, the scene was entirely changed. Temperatures in the upper 60s with intense sun had laid waste to much of the snowpack, and the result was an astonishing supply of water. All rivers were at peak carrying capacity, including little washes and creeks that are virtually dry much of the year. Ditches overflowed, and the entire landscape looked like a gigantic water table with topography and subtle contours altering the flow of water as it sailed downhill in all directions.
At the confluence of Lester River and Amity Creek, the torrent was jaw-dropping. The sheer quantity of water being carried downstream in a single stream was awe-inspiring. Much of that water had drained from the land surrounding the 20 miles I had just biked, and it had to be the most impressive day for melting snow producing a flash runoff event that I have ever experienced.
I just happened to be there for it. It was a surprise, as most blessings are.
This caused me to overflow with thankfulness and gratitude for living in this land of many waters. Thankfully, I have known real thirst only a few times in my life. Once you’ve been unshakably thirsty in a desert-like environment with nothing to quench it, you tend not to take water for granted again.
In many ways, we live at the heart of North America, from a hydrologic perspective. Three watersheds are in relatively close proximity, with the Mississippi River carrying water south to the Gulf of Mexico, water draining through Lake Superior and out to the Atlantic Ocean through the St. Lawrence Seaway, and the Laurentian Divide where waters drain north to Hudson Bay.
Ten percent of the world’s fresh water sits in Lake Superior, where it remains for approximately 191 years before draining to the east. The Boundary Waters area, with well over 1000 pristine lakes, and many hundreds more nearby, speaks for itself. We have been endowed with some of the most abundant and cleanest water on earth.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to not take this precious resource for granted, but to cherish and protect it for future generations, while also enjoying and experiencing the full bounty at our disposal today.
Copper mining in the heart of this ecosystem should give us pause. While the companies involved claim to be able to do so in an environmentally sustainable way, I know of no examples on Earth of it being done without significant sulfuric acid pollution occurring.
The promise of jobs is alluring, but we must not rush to judgment (for or against) on this.
The permitting process is essential, and the EPA and other regulatory authorities are not partisan entities. They need to be allowed to do their work, and the science needs to be carefully studied prior to any green lights. An important environmental impact statement is set to be released this summer, and this must be reviewed carefully and debated by the public extensively. The process is long and arduous, as it should be.
There’s quite a clamor to expedite the process, but if there ever was a situation that demanded a decision based upon painstaking study and deliberation, this is it.
Monthly Budgeteer columnist Eddy Gilmore is a freelance writer, father of twins and husband of one. Visit his blog at: eddygilmore.areavoices. com. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.