Wild Rice - Minnesota is noted for it. Native American Ojibwe came all the way from Maine and beat the Lakota Sioux down to South Dakota for it. Most of us love wild rice and the actual harvesting of it. It has been a tradition of many Minnesota families not to mention a huge industry for this state. The last thing any of us wants to do is damage that industry. Those of us who support mining also support our environment, jobs, and commerce. We support tourism, and wild rice plays a large role in tourism. It is not just sacred to Native Americans. We like it too.
That being said, whenever there is a mining controversy (and these days, that seems like every second), wild rice inevitably appears on the radar screen as yet another nail in the coffin of mining. Without mining metals and minerals, our society would end in about a day. By mining metals and minerals all over the world with little to no regulation as is done in China, the pollution they cause will end up in our wild rice. If you don't believe that irresponsible mining techniques from far away damage us and ours, you are living in complete denial. What sense does it make to allow the third-world to pollute itself and us to death to fill your need for metal which is used in virtually everything you touch?
The most recent controversy regarding copper-nickel mining and the PolyMet site near Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota, was brought forth by all sorts of people living "downstream" in Duluth. They made a big stink and found some native Americans to join in their protest. Their gripe was after Erie Mining (today's PolyMet site) operated the mine for 50 years with these big holding ponds which had no issues that I can recall, there would now, suddenly be a problem if the holding ponds were used for copper-nickel processing. Until the Polyment proposal, there was nary a peep out of Duluth as to the wild rice down stream as well as the water becoming toxic. However, mining copper-nickel using the same holding ponds would now result in these ponds explosively failing and wiping out every man, woman, child, dog, cat, and gopher downstream; thus making life as unliveable as Chernobyl for the next 1000 years. All this would now happen, even though the ponds are not as big as many small lakes in the Boundary Waters. Then there where those jumping on the protest band wagon, declaring it a risk to the Boundary Waters even though PolyMet was on the other side of the continental divide so the water would actually be running southeast to Lake Superior instead of northeast to Ely. That remains laughable. Everybody was protesting and nobody really knew much about what they were fighting against among the "downstream" protestors. Ironically, since the PolyMet mining project has now received the green light to continue, we haven't been hearing all the protests and mentioning of wild rice. Nonetheless, I dug up this Minnesota Study, paid for by you and me (as residents) which directly addressed in a very thorough fashion, the effects of the dreaded, scary sounding, sulfides that the activists are using to pound fear into the hearts of mere mortals. If you are a mere mortal and reading this, I hope to rather quickly dispell that fear about the killing off of wild rice due to sulfides in the water.
First off, our waters already have sulfides in them. A sulfide is a a sulfur-based salt which appears after a bacteria consumes a sulfate which comes from all sorts of sources including city tertiary treatment systems. (More on this and the enviro-craziness being considered later).
From what I can tell in this report, bacteria eat the suflates and release the dreaded sulfides. Well, no wonder everyone is upset about sulfides. Sulfides are really sulfur-based bacteria poop. That's what it sounds like to me.
When a sulfide is released into the water, it rapidly binds with porewater iron that is in which water? - oh, yeah - all of Northeastern Minnesota's water. That's why it is called the "Iron" Range. It's a range covered in iron. The rapid bond of sulfides and porewater iron adds the weight of the iron to the dreaded sulfide and down it precipitates into the mud ending up well below the roots of the wild rice. After a billion years of bonding with bacteria poop sulfides, we may get a sedimentary layer of iron ore that future humans - who weren't killed by sulfide poisoning - will dig up and use to build starships or rudimentary iron tools (well, what if we regress?). Now, in fairness, too much sulfide content can take all the iron out of the water and leave remaining sulfides that do not precipitate beyond the roots of the wild rice. This is bad. Remember - too much of anything is usually bad. But, that is why we have standards which are written by the state scientists to regulate water output by a mining operation. They are required to treat that water because Minnesota is not some run-of-the-mill, third-world country. Nobody on the entire Iron Range is saying that it's okay to just dump excessive sulfides into waterways without proper, effective treatment. As I said before, we like our wild rice; and this is our backyard. We don't live 100 miles away in a town that thinks nothing at all to repeatedly dump millions of tons of raw sewage with abandon into the St. Louis River and ultimately Lake Superior every time it rains hard. Then they have the gall to be worried about opposing mining interests on the Iron Range because they are "downstream". What about treating the water you drink while you try to remove the sewage that you put into it? Maybe those farway Duluthians who protest us on the Range should "watch their own bobbers" for a while. They have plenty of them and they floating in their own sewage. Ya think there might be any sulfates coming out of all those toilet flushes and heading up the shore to Two Harbors? How about the e. Coli outbreaks along the shores of Lake Superior? Gee, I wonder where that might be coming from especially after a major rainstorm? Mmmm, pure clean water....Hey - LOOK! They want to mine copper nickle and iron ore on the Range! Quick, everybody! Let's make beer out of our sewage water and go up to protest the Range. And then, as a city, let's protest a pipeline in North Dakota as well because there are no pipelines anywhere in the US or even Minnesota for that matter.
With the exception of a few sidebars, the above is my interpretation of this 91 page report. The bad thing about scientists is that they aren't really bright enough to simplify a report so the commoner can understand it. It would be a lot easier to get funding for their studies if we all felt they were doing scientific things of value for our state based on our ability to interpret the reports with relative ease. After reading much of this myself, I concluded that it is a work of real science with no definitive answer and vascillating findings which address possiblities and scenarios, etc. Unlike other studies across the US where they have come out with an absolute answer based on computer models looking 500 years into the future and then relying on "peer consensus", this Minnesota study is truly scientific. It has findings that are affected by variables which are simply that: variables. There are no definite answers, but my interpretation is that they know what levels are necessary to keep wild rice healthy. We have a lot of porewater iron in our neck of the woods. Porewater iron binds with sulfides and gets them out of the path of wild rice. Too much volume of sulfates equals a problem. Oversite and testing is needed in mining operations that involve sulfidic ores. A mining permit is issued based on many of these factors and many, many more. Don't let the activists seeking control over your life convince you that they know all the answers. They all drink beer made from yucky water and nobody says a thing about it. Maybe we need to protest the wrecking of Lake Superior by Duluth.
Ultimately, mining copper-nickel comes down to proper management of the mine, quality state oversight, and employees who give a crap about their backyards. All of these are achievable.
One more thing to notice: This report cost over $1 million and took years to complete with thousands of tests and studies. NOTE: It was done by our own MPCA not the federal EPA. We don't need federal oversight to tell us how to do it. We have many brilliant people on our Minnesota team fully capable of doing major studies.
Here is a link to the actual report. Click Here Below are images of parts of the report.