Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Water notes, sweet and sour

There are several hopeful signs that Minnesota, and the USEPA, may be starting to give water quality and supply issues the attention needed. In no particular order of importance, because I think they're all important, here are some opportunities for you to make a difference in Minnesota's quality of life.

The U.S. Forest Service wants your input (they'll soon have mine) on whether they should consent to the renewal of mineral leases for the proposed Twin Metals copper mine in the BWCA watershed. The Service appears to be leaning against renewal. I think that's wise and here's part of my reasoning, from a report summary on the EarthWorks web site:
"In 2012, state and federal documents were reviewed for fourteen copper sulfide mines representing 89% of U.S. copper production in 2010 – the most recent data on copper production available from the U.S. Geological Survey. These mines provided a representative view of the types of environmental impacts resulting from the development of copper sulfide deposits, focusing on pipeline spills, tailings failures and water collection and treatment failures"
  • All of the mines (100%) experienced pipeline spills or other accidental releases.
  • At 13 of the 14 mines (92%), water collection and treatment systems have failed to control contaminated mine seepage, resulting in significant water quality impacts.
  • Tailings spills have occurred at nine operations, and a partial failure of the tailings impoundment occurred at four out of fourteen mines (28%).
The St. Louis River delivers pollution to Lake Superior
The St. Louis River delivers pollution to Lake Superior
Photo by J. Harrington

Perhaps, with modern techniques and equipment, plus adequate regulatory commitment, mining's track record could be improved, but, based on the recent record of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, we'd be naively optimistic to think that they'd do a better job with copper mining regulation than they have with taconite mining and processing. In response to this petition, the Environmental Protection Agency is currently in the midst of a serious evaluation of Minnesota's ability to effectively control water pollution from taconite mining. (For years I worked for a public agency responsible for financing compliance with wastewater discharge permits. We never got the kind of "kid glove" treatment mining has.)

Finally, you can support a proposed alternative to the current system by commenting in favor of EPA's rule change. According to Minnesota's own WaterLegacy:
For the first time in history, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed rules to wrest expired water pollution permits out of state hands.

Take action today to support new EPA authority to replace out-of-date water pollution permits and protect Minnesota lakes and streams.
 I agree with Governor Dayton that Minnesota's water supply and wastewater treatment infrastructure systems are way underfunded. I just don't think that throwing money at funding expansions of infrastructure systems is much more than engaging in enabling behavior. America, including Minnesota, made a major commitment to attaining and maintaining clean water back in 1972. The 1985 goals might have been, obviously were, unrealistically optimistic. It's been a log time since 1985. It might be helpful if someone would start to put together an integrated listing of infrastructure needs, specific water issues to be addressed by each project and whether an "equitable" funding package (federal, state, local, other) is feasible. It might make sense, if the state is picking up the tab for essentially local infrastructure needs, to make local growth capacity be conditioned on development of an unsubsidized tax base so we're not always trying to play catch up and robbing poor Peter to pay even poorer Paul. (See Strong Towns web site.)


By Ginger Murchison

Late afternoons, we'd tuck up our hems
under Minisa Bridge, scrape our white knees
on scrub brush and drowned trees to slide
down the dirt bank past milk-weed
gone to seed, cattails and trash to sit on stones
at the edge of the river and giggle and smoke,
waiting to wolf-whistle North High's rowing team.
In the shadows where the milk-chocolate river
unfolded, ooze between our toes, we'd strip,
risk long-legged insects, leeches and mothers
for the silt slick on our thighs, the air thick
with the smell of honeysuckle, mud—the rest
of the day somewhere downstream. We didn't
know why, but none of us wanted
to go home to polite kitchens and mothers
patiently waiting for what happened next,
the way women have always waited for hunter husbands,
kept vigils and prayed at the entrance of mines.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.