Summer Camp for Journalists: Water in Old Mining Country

On the road with IJNR’s Mining Country Institute, Hawaii-based Codi Yeager-Kozacek returns to Michigan and the Midwest.

Nickel Eagle Mine Michigan Upper Peninsula Marquette Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources IJNR

Photo Codi Yeager-Kozacek/Circle of Blue
A piece of nickel, the metal that will be produced at the Eagle Mine near Marquette, Michigan. Nickel is used primarily to create stainless steel. Click image to enlarge.

YELLOW DOG PLAINS, Marquette, Michigan — What do a pasty, iron taconite pellets, and wild rice have in common? They can all be found in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the Northwoods of Wisconsin, where I’ve spent the past two days as one of 18 fellows at the Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources’ 2013 Mining Country Institute. The expanses of forest and wetlands along the shores of Lake Superior sit atop vast iron and copper ore deposits that have given this region a long history of boom-and-bust mining.

But after more than 50 years of bust, it looks like the area is poised for another boom.

IJNR — a sort of camp for journalists — is taking us on a whirlwind tour of old and new mines, sites reclaimed, and sites yet to be touched. So far, I’ve been:

  • 800 feet down in a new nickel and copper mine
  • on the floor of a taconite iron ore processing plant
  • in the sloughs of one of the most extensive wetland systems in the Great Lakes

I’ve heard from miners, tribal members, housewives, and mayors. Everyone is talking about water — how to secure it, how to clean it, how to store it, how to save it. Mining uses huge quantities of water to process ore. Technology allows for more and more recycling of that water, but it must eventually be reclaimed. Meanwhile, operations can also fill in streams and wetlands, and some ores can produce acid rock drainage if they are not properly managed.

Residents here, like many around the globe, face tough decisions about the future of mining in their communities, and there are people on all sides of the issue making valid points. I’m filling up my notebooks and camera — and I still have two more days to go.

What do you want to learn about mining in the Great Lakes region? Contact Codi Yeager

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