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Natural Awakenings Milwaukee

July 2012 Publisher Letter

Jun 29, 2012 11:24AM

One of my great summer delights is recreating on and along our state’s plentiful waterways. In addition to bountiful rivers and lakes, Wisconsin borders one of the largest freshwater ecosystems on Earth. The Great Lakes comprise 20 percent of the planet’s fresh water, half of which is stored in Lake Superior. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that as water tables drop dangerously low due to climate-change-related drought, poor agricultural practices and population growth, corporate America is seeking to commercialize the Great Lakes for profit. The cost to citizens of such exploitation of public natural resources by private interests is unfathomable, as history proves time and again.

Mining is becoming a pressing concern, with commercial interests threatening to destroy irreplaceable environmental habitats. Currently pending is a proposal to build a 4.5 mile-long, open pit iron ore mine in the Penokee Hills that would eventually reach 22 miles, to the headwaters of the Tyler Forks and Bad Rivers, which empty into Lake Superior wetlands. The impact of mining on the Lake Superior ecosystem could include acid mine drainage, wetland and habitat loss, regional air haze, impacts on fish populations, mercury methylation, destruction of the world’s largest wild rice bed and loss of access to tribal treaty resources. Clearly, the environmental costs are tremendous.

Radioactive pollution is another potential threat. Recently, Stony Brook University researchers discovered that bluefin tuna off the California coast have been contaminated by radiation exposure from Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant 6,000 miles away. Currently, 37 aging nuclear power plants dot the Great Lakes Basin, many of which are being re-licensed to operate unimpeded for coming decades instead of being rightly decommissioned. In contrast, Germany’s Environmental Minister recently announced that the country will shut down all of its nuclear reactors by 2022, compensating for their closures by increasing clean, renewable energy resources.

These only add to the history of chemical contamination that continues to be a paramount concern. Fertilizers that reach waterways cause algae bloom which kills fish, changing the ecosystem entirely. Although government interventions have substantially reduced the discharge of toxic and persistent industrial chemicals, such as polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs) and methylmercury, contaminant concentrations remain harmfully high in the sediments of rivers and harbors.

Indigenous healer and spiritual therapist Jean Reddmann, of Allenton, wisely advises Wisconsonites to accept our special roles as guardians of the great waters of Mother Superior, as protectors of its purity. Clean, fresh water is sacred, the first medicine; if our water sources becomes contaminated, so do our bodies, spirits and minds. Protecting water’s integrity is essential for all living things now and for generations to come.

Facing the facts can be discouraging unless we empower ourselves by taking positive actions. We can start by becoming involved with organizations—like Mining Impact Coalition, Bad River Watershed Association, Nature Conservancy and Waterkeeper Alliance—that take a stand for conservation of the Great Lakes and other environmental treasures. Then we can take additional actions, both small—like limiting our own water usage and choosing green products—and large, becoming an active voice for conservation.

In grateful stewardship,

Gabriella Buchnik, Publisher

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