For the Present Generation to the Seventh Generation
TO: Chief Negotiators for Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement
(firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com)
RE: Comments on Negotiations to Amend the Great Lakes Water
Affiliation: Protect Our Manoomin
Date: September 8, 2011
Protect Our Manoomin is a Minnesota Ojibwe grassroots organization dedicated to protecting our manoomin (wild rice) and the sustenance, cultural, and spiritual heritage of the tribal communities for whom manoomin is an integral part of their lifeway.
One of our main concerns is the contaminants from taconite and sulfate mining, and how those contaminants affect the tribal ceded (or off-reservation) environment – in particular, the aquatic ecosystem that include manoomin, fish, wildlife, and plants .We submit the following comments in connection with the 2010 Renegotiation of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA):
Protect Our Manoomin agrees with Comment Number: 18GLWQA: [I]t would seem to me as an Aboriginal living within this area that we have involvement in activities and projects. In review a lot of the funded programs limit a person like myself in this clean up that is needed and by large not committed by our people but have been forced to live in the middle of what has been damaged heritage and rights to fish when species are polluted and endangered.
Our comment: The former site of the U.S. Steel Duluth Works located in the Saint Louis River basin is a Superfund Site. In August 2011, Spirit Island, the sixth stopping place in the migration of the Anishinaabe people from the northeastern part of the continent, was purchased by the Fond du Lac Ojibwe Band. The nearly 10 acre island has 2,200 feet of shoreline and was purchased from a Duluth resident for $150,000. The fish population is inedible due to the mercury that polluted the waters. The cleanup effort by the Fond du Lac band will not focus on cleaning the waters but rather cleaning Spirit Island. The band will use the island for conservation and cultural efforts. The band will use its own resources to clean up Spirit Island. This is but one example of cleanup efforts that tribes have to engage in to restore land – and water – polluted by mining industries whose contaminants flow into Lake Superior.
Protect Our Manoomin agrees with Comment Number 74GLWQA that the GLWQA should: “Establish a specific review of the impacts of metallic sulfide mining in water-rich regions to determine the level of threat posed by current ongoing mine explorations in northern Minnesota (boundary waters region) and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (Yellow Dog Plains, Salmon Trout River, Lake Superior Watershed).”
Our comment: The river basins that flow into Lake Superior contain contaminants from taconite mining that include sulfates and mercury. Proposed mining projects at Eagle Rock in Michigan, the Penokee Mountains outside of Bad River, and Ceded Territory of 1855 in Minnesota, that includes the Grand Portage, Fond du Lac, and Bois Forte Bands of Ojibwe, will elevate the levels of contaminants into Lake Superior.
One example – What is called the Wild Rice Dead Zone extends from the point where the Partridge River meets the St. Louis River. From that point and extending to 140 miles to the St. Louis River basin, manoomin doesn’t grow, or in some areas grows poorly, as a result of sulfates released from U.S. Steel’s Keetac and Minntac mines. The sulfates (and mercury) from those mines flows into Lake Superior.
Therefore we feel it is imperative that any review of sulfate mining – and taconite mining – include tribal representatives from bands of the Lake Superior Ojibwe whose tribal land and ceded lands are affected by mining industries.
Protect Our Manoomin further agrees with Comment Number 74GLWQA that the GLWQA should analyze geological surveys of the region, maps of groundwater, and surface discharge impacts, and determine what level of regulation and limitation will be necessary to protect the aquatic ecosystems.
Our comment: In our opinion tribal environmental/natural resources departments need to be a part of this process. Only those departments can provide an accurate analysis on discharge impacts and the manner necessary to protect reservation and ceded land aquatic ecosystems.
Protect Our Manoomin agrees with Comment Number 99GLWQA that the GLWQA should be revised to add new stressors and reflect a better understanding of stressors in the Agreement, including copper and nickel sulfide mining sources, groundwater pollution and changes in water levels that may affect water quality. We would suggest that mine dewatering is an important stressor that may affect water quality by changing water levels.
Our Comment: An important factor that affects water quality – in addition to water levels – is water treatment technologies. States need to be accountable for ensuring that sulfate and taconite mining industries will provide water treatment that will meet EPA Clean Water Act regulations. The issuance of permits – for both air and water – needs to be stringent. Unfortunately some states have chosen to by-pass regulations and, instead, create laws that streamline the permit process and cater to the needs of mining industries. One example is the recent legislation that was passed in Minnesota. Under the Omnibus Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Finance Bill, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), to the fullest extent allowable under federal law, does not require a permittee to expend funds for design and implementation of sulfate treatment technologies until the new rules are enacted. The law allows the MPCA to amends rules, if necessary, to accomplish this using the good cause exemption. And it requires the MPCA to amend discharge limits in affected wastewater discharge permits to reflect the new standard developed under the new rules and enter into schedules of compliance in the permit.
In Minnesota, the wild rice/sulfate water quality standard, under state law, is 10 mg/L – i.e., 10 milligrams of sulfate per liter. Anything over 10 mg/L endangers manoomin. Manoomin is a barometer of the environment. Healthy beds of manoomin indicate a healthy ecosystem; unhealthy manoomin beds indicate a ecosystem in distress. Although the MPCA has given assurances that the 10 mg/l water quality will be maintained, the new law does not provide that assurance.
Permits are essential to the well-being of the environment. Yet the permits being issued in Minnesota do not hold mining industries accountable for water treatment that will maintain the current water quality standard for sulfates. One concern is the Schedule of Compliance (SOC). Recent permits approved for U.S. Steel’s Keetac and Minntac mines provide an SOC until 2024. So the question is – what kind of environmental damage will occur over the period of a lengthy SOC? The Keetac Mine is releasing a sulfate concentration of 40 to 60 mg/L; Minntac is releasing 240 to 850 mg/L. Those concentrations will enter the St. Louis River and, in turn, enter Lake Superior.
This mines that we are speaking about here are taconite mines. The proposed copper-nickel mines are not part of the current equation. How much more sulfates and mercury will enter Lake Superior as a result of mining? This is just Minnesota. Once the Kennecott/Rio Tinto copper-nickel mine in Michigan, and the proposed Gobebic taconite mine in Wisconsin are factored in, we are dealing with an enormous and alarming problem. One that will strongly affect the waters of Lake Superior.
Protect Our Manoomin submits the following additional comments:
Historically, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan are called Anishinaabeg Akiing – the Land of the Ojibwe. Originally, the Ojibwe lived on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, in the area now called New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It was there we were given the Seven Fires Prophecy. According to the First Fire, we were to migrate to the east and when we came to where the food grows on water that would be the land that Gichi-Manidoo, the Creator, had intended for us to live on. According to our traditions, we began our migration 600-700 years ago, and migrated down the St. Lawrence River and entered into the Great Lakes region. It was there we found the food that grows on water, i.e., wild rice. The main area that the Ojibwe settled was Anishinaabeg-gichigami – the Sea of the Ojibwe. This was later renamed Lake Superior by Europeans.
In the mid-1600s, French explorers began seeking out copper deposits. As a result of treaties, American mining companies began mining for copper on ceded lands in the mid-1800s.
Treaty rights included off-reservation rights on ceded lands. These rights included hunting, fishing, and gathering rights – including the harvest of manoomin. These rights were affirmed by the Voigt decision in Wisconsin (1983), and the landmark Supreme Court decision - Minnesota v. Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe (1999).
Protect Our Manoomin supports Comment Number 113GLWQA by the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe and Comment Number 118GLWQA by the Sault St. Marie Band of Ojibwe. However, there are other Ojibwe bands that need to be included by virtue of off-reservation/ceded land rights. This includes the Fond du Lac, Bois Forte, and Grand Portage bands of Ojibwe. Indeed, all Ojibwe bands included in the Ceded Territory of 1855, need to be included in any dialogue regarding the well-being of Anishinaabeg-gichigami. Their voices should not be ignored.