The Kawishiwi River near Ely, which flows out of and then back into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on its way north, has again made a list of “most endangered” rivers in the U.S.
The environmental advocacy group American Rivers said the Kawishiwi faces imminent peril from the proposed Twin Metals copper mine, which would be located along the river, just outside the federal wilderness.
American Rivers listed the Kawishiwi as third on its list of the 10 most endangered rivers. All 10 face major government decisions in coming months and years that could decide their fate, the group said.
Supporters say the massive underground mine can produce valuable copper, nickel and other metals and still protect the region’s waterways while providing hundreds of jobs. But critics say the potential of tainted mine runoff from copper-bearing sulfide rock poses too great a danger of flowing into the BWCAW.
The Obama administration effectively stalled the proposed mine by withholding mineral leases in the Superior National Forest and calling for a study of copper mining in the area and a possible 20-year moratorium on all mining near the BWCAW. The Trump administration is working to release those restrictions and allow the project to advance into formal environmental review.
The group said the Trump administration is taking similar action across the U.S.
“In our many years of issuing the America’s Most Endangered Rivers report, we’ve seldom seen a collection of threats this severe, or an administration so bent on undermining and reversing protections for clean water, rivers and public health,” said Bob Irvin, president of American Rivers, in a statement.
The Kawishiwi was American Rivers’ sixth-most endangered river in 2013 for the same reasons. In 2015 the group named the St. Louis River to the most endangered list because of the proposed PolyMet copper mine and potential for tainted runoff.
Also on the most endangered list this year, at sixth-most endangered, is a portion of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, from St. Anthony Falls to the Minnesota River, because of dams that block its free-flow. The Kinnickinnic River in west-central Wisconsin is listed at No. 10 on the list, also because of dams.
The Big Sunflower River in Mississippi, “threatened by revival of the Army Corps of Engineers Yazoo Pumps project that would drain critical wetlands at enormous taxpayer expense,” was the group’s most-endangered river for 2018, followed by multiple rivers in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region that would be threatened by what would be the world’s largest open-pit mine. The group said pollution from the mine threatens the bay’s $1.5 billion annual salmon fishery.
The Rio Grande in Texas also made the list because of President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall and impacts on the border river.