The South Kawishiwi River near Ely, which flows through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, is sixth on American Rivers' list of America's Most Endangered Rivers of 2013. The list, released today, "underscores the problems that arise for communities and the environment when we drain too much water out of rivers," said Bob Irvin, president of American Rivers.
The river is a popular entry point for the BWCA, and it's part of a watershed that includes Voyageurs National Park, Rainy River and Lake of the Woods.
The organization is concerned about a proposal by Twin Metals to open a copper-nickel mine just a few miles from the wilderness, which it says would pollute the river.
Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness policy director Betsy Daub said this kind of mining has never been done without polluting nearby waters with sulfuric acid and other toxic metals. The federal Environmental Protection Agency says hardrock mining produces more toxic releases than any other sector.
"We can't afford to use the Boundary Waters as a guinea pig," Daub said. "And that's what we're being asked to do."
Twin Metals says the designation by American Rivers is an attempt to build up public opinion against the mine, without giving it a chance to go through the environmental review process.
Company spokesman Bob McFarlin says state and federal agencies will conduct rigorous environmental studies, including public participation, before any mining occurs in the region.
"And these calls from Friends of the Boundary Waters and American Rivers for pre-emptive rejection of these projects before they're even proposed really denies the citizens the opportunity to review these projects, to participate in the process, to ask questions, and to understand," McFarlin said.
Twin Metals says its planned mine and others would produce thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic impact.
American Rivers wants the state and federal governments to oppose development of the Twin Metals mine; it calls for a halt to congressional action to facilitate land exchanges to enable future mines; and it advocates expanding mining protection zones around the Boundary Waters.
Based in Washington, American Rivers describes itself as "the leading organization working to protect and restore the nation's rivers and streams."