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Pollution found in Birch Lake could help shield it from mining

Group fighting to protect BWCAW uncovers pollution on Birch Lake
Group fighting to protect BWCAW uncovers pollution on Birch Lake 02:11

BIRCH LAKE, Minn. — A popular lake near Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness could join an unpleasant list.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency wants to add 54 lakes and streams to its catalog of impaired water bodies. The new entries would include Birch Lake near Babbitt.

A fight to protect our pristine wilderness may have uncovered the problem.

The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters has worked to protect the headwaters that lead into the BWCAW, including on Birch Lake.


It's their effort to collect sulfate data that led to the area being put on a draft list of impaired state waters.

"We developed a plan, assembled the equipment and learned, followed and began documenting compliance with EPA and MPCA quality assurance and control methods," Executive Director Ingrid Lyons said.

Lyons said their research on the pollution was clear, and how sulfate can damage the wild rice designated lake. It holds significance with the larger issue of protecting from potentially more pollution from proposed copper-nickel mining.

"The results from this work are unequivocal. Every sample in the western end of Birch Lake shows sulfate concentrations above the 10mg/L sulfate standard," Lyons said.

READ MORE: How the Save the Boundary Waters movement brought Minnesota mining into the national spotlight  

If Birch Lake is listed as impaired following a public comment process, it could bolster the campaign's efforts.

"The listing is supposed to make the gears of the Clean Water Act start turning," Policy and Science Director Matt Norton said.

That means no new permits could be issued that could cause more sulfate pollution.

Sen. Kelly Morrison is pushing for a state ban on mining to complement the 20-year federal ban.

"So it's very important that we protect all of the land, both federal and state, in the watershed to protect the Boundary Waters," Morrison said.

Twin Metals wants to mine the area. The company had no comment.

In a statement, a mining industry group said "projects cannot and should not be permitted unless they are able to meet all the requirements of state and federal water protection laws."

WCCO recently highlighted Birch Lake in reports about the federal ban on mining the area.

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