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Cool Clear Water; by Mike Hillman

One of the things we take for granted in Northeastern Minnesota is our water.  I was born in Ely 57 years ago, and have lived most of my life in Ely.  I spent time away at college, and worked ten years at a taconite mine, on the Mesabi Range, but other than that, Ely has been my home.

I made my first canoe trip into the Quetico-Superior with my father and Joe Seliga, when I was a boy, and over the years, I have traveled many miles through the canoe country.  The last trip I made this past September, my partner prevailed on me to use a water purifier to ward of the beaver virus.  That was the first time I ever used such a device.  I never had beaver virus, and I didn’t get it this time, but that’s the only thing I worry about when I drink the water.

Drinking lake water isn’t anything strange to people up here.  If you live in Ely, like I do, a person drinks lake water every day.  The City of Ely pumps its water from Burntside Lake.  We used to get out water from Shagawa Lake, but so many logs were driven through the lake, on their way either to the saw mills in Winton, or the mines in Ely, that the lake became polluted from all the extra nutrients added to the water.  Shagawa Lake developed an algae problem that persists to this day, when the lake, “Greens Up”, during the warm summer months.  They moved the pump house to Burntside Lake in 1931, which has been the source of Ely’s water ever since.

The first time I had any idea that we had something special, was back in 1971.  I was working on Moose Lake running a canoe base, when I noticed a group of people standing on the end of our old wooden dock, looking down into the water.  I couldn’t help myself.  I needed to satisfy my curiosity, so I walked over to see what they were looking at.  I looked down, and it was the same bottom I had looked at all summer.  I asked them what they were looking at.  The people told me, they were from Ohio, and had never seen the bottom of a lake before.  It was a revelation for me.  They were heading north into Canada.  I smiled, and told them, that they hadn’t seen anything yet.

Over the years, we have gotten better at sampling the water in the lakes and streams around the state, and many of those lakes we monitor are here in Northeastern Minnesota.  At first people were surprised at some of the not so nice things they were finding in our water, and many people wondered how they got there, even though there were no direct sources to blame.   Apparently, mercury from faraway places had fallen with the rain and snow.  The DNR had to place warnings for people not to eat too much fish.  Things aren’t bad enough to keep me away from a good dinner of fresh caught walleye. But, we need to know, that when pollution is permitted to enter the atmosphere in places far away from places like our lakes, the wind carries it here and deposits mercury where it isn’t wanted.  But now those concerns seem pale to an even greater danger.

This year the  State of Minnesota’s DNR is facing some very important questions regarding sulfide mining, and the detrimental effects that mining would have on our water, that would make current problems seem insignificant by comparison.  With growing demand across the nation and the world for clean fresh water, the citizens of the entire country and concerned people across the world need to contact the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and let them know that they don’t want to see short sighted economics put such a valuable resource as our water into jeopardy.  If we start mining sulfide ore here in Northeastern Minnesota, it isn’t a question of if there’s going to be damage to our water, it’s more a question of just how bad the damage from things like cyanide and sulfuric acid and heavy metals will be.

3 comments to Cool Clear Water; by Mike Hillman

  • Mike, I have very bad news for you. The damage will likely be severe and long-lasting. Mining operations have become huge, many-square-mile operations that tear apart the earth, drench the ore with TONS of liquid sodium cyanide, generate countless tons of toxic waste, and ALWAYS leak. Many of these mines leak catastrophically, witness the $200 million Summitville Mine Disaster, the Zortmann-Landusky Gold Mine Disaster, the Brewer Gold Mine Disaster. These are just a few of many. The U.S. EPA asserts that mining operations have contaminated the headwaters of more than 40 percent of the watersheds in the West and that remediation of the half-million abandoned mines in 32 states may cost more than $50 billion (adjusted). Fact: No other industry causes as much long-term environmental destruction as mining. And these disasters don’t go away. They poison for decades. Reform is needed now. Read THE MINE. Yes, I’m the author.

  • Pete from f.l.

    MINE BABY MINE!!!! Is nothern Minnesota the loccation of the next environmental disaster? Supporters of the Polmet/sulfide mine project say that northern minnesota needs the mining jobs, much like British Petroleum told the gulf coast, they also needed jobs that the oil industy would provide. But at what cost? We need to stop and ask, is this project safe for the environment? Just like BP,Polmet’s saying that there operation would be very safe, nothing can go wrong!! What is BP telling us now? What would Polymet tell our chilren later? This is not the jobs northern Minnesota needs!!!! Tell polymet to take their potenitial disaster and leave. Minnesota can not afford this type of job!

  • markkassal

    polymet leave this area alone and your pollution,acid run off . and use your head it will pollute. this area for generations to come will be a dead water area for ever polymet go home…………

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