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Over the last few years we have witnessed a rising up of groups of people opposed to mining expansion and petroleum pipeline extensions in Northern Minnesota. Recently, three brave activists, Thane Maxwell, Scott Bol, and Jesse Peterson, were convicted of petty misdemeanors for their roles in a protest against Enbridge Energy pipelines, which transitioned from a peaceful assembly into an occupation of Enbridge’s downtown Duluth office.
A cabal of local businesses recently formed the “Downstream Coalition” to actively oppose the expansion of gainful employment in mining industries in Minnesota, instead suggesting that local residents seek minimal-wage employment in the liquor and restaurant service realm at vastly lower salaries than mining provides, all for the noble cause of “preserving the pristine quality of our precious Lake Superior water supply.” This, in spite of the fact that both Enbridge pipeline and Polymet copper mine have deposited exactly zero pollutants into Lake Superior, and any business these entities plan to undertake that holds even the remotest chance of that happening are highly regulated and monitored by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and other regulatory agencies, local and federal, not to mention observed by private nature preservation clubs as well. In other words, any breach of the agreements these companies have made with state and federal regulators will be easily verified, duly noted, and swiftly prosecuted.
So here we are again. March 15 and 16, 2016, the city of Duluth experienced a spring rain storm resulting in 2.7 inches of rain falling during the two-day period. Although anomalous for this date in March, it was hardly a record rainfall. In fact, rainstorms of this magnitude are common in Duluth. What makes this noteworthy is the fact that 5,700,000 gallons of untreated sewage wastewater flowed directly into Lake Superior, yet again. This is the water supply from which residents and businesses draw water for washing, cooking, cleaning, drinking, brewing coffee, brewing beer, distilling liquor, etc. This is the deified pristine source of water that the Downstream Coalition purports to want to protect from the imaginary, boogie-man pollution deposited by the non-existent reckless commercial mining and petroleum transport industries waste-dumping practices. 5.7 MILLION GALLONS. Toilet flushings. Industrial floor cleaning chemicals. Industrial and residential laundry chemicals. Soiled feminine hygiene products. Used condoms. Deposited directly into our drinking water.
I must note here that if our newly elected mayor, Emily Larson, hadn’t publicized this recent breach, the public at large may not have even heard about it at all. Since the WLSSD Wastewater Treatment Plant opened for business in 1978, there have been innumerable sewage overflows into the drinking water supply in Duluth. At one point, WLSSD was on “double-secret probation”, so to speak, with regulators. WLSSD and the City are co-permittees on a National Pollution Discharge Elimination system (NPDES) Collection System Permit. The permit addresses problems the systems have encountered with overfills that spill sewage into the environment. The permit requires the permittees to control or eliminate all overflows by 2007. At that point, the City and Sanitary District built some additional tank storage, which resulted in release from purgatory, and we haven’t really seen an overflow since June 2012, until now.
This is actual pollution, gentle reader. Sewage discharges into the drinking water supply were the culprit in the 1993 cryptosporidium illness outbreak in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that made 403,000 people ill and caused the deaths of nearly 100.
My plea to the Downstream Coalition would be this: put your vast brainpower and energy into solving THIS ACTUAL PROBLEM before you waste any more resources and community good-will destroying the plans of job-creating mineral and energy companies who are NOT polluting the water. If there is anything that will hurt your product’s reputation, it will be a serious catastrophe related to sewage in the water, water that you proudly use in your products and services.