The jewel of Minnesota's natural resources and tourism industry is also among America's Most Endangered Rivers for 2013."
The group American Rivers says the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is being threatened by a proposed copper and nickel mine near a popular entry point.
Aaron Klemz, communications and engagement director for Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, said the mine would release toxic waste into the South Kawishiwi River, threatening the ecosystem.
"A lot of folks like to talk about how there's new technology that will make this safe," he said. "No sulfide mine has ever operated without causing serious water pollution, and we can't just afford to use the Boundary Waters as a guinea pig for an industry with this track record. That's why we're so concerned about this issue."
Klemz and other advocates are calling on federal and state leaders to block mines and proposals to weaken water quality standards in the Boundary Waters. He said protecting the BWCA is about both the environment and the economy.
"Annually, $100 million is attributable to people just visiting the Boundary Waters alone; and the Superior National Forest, the area outside of the wilderness area, is worth half a billion dollars to the regional economy," he said. "All that's threatened if we have a mining zone that creates substantial pollution just outside the wilderness area."
Topping this year's "most endangered" list is the Colorado River. Matt Niemerski, American Rivers' director of western water policy, said it's being threatened by outdated water management and persistent drought.
"We're in our 13th year of drought," he said. "If we invest in these conservation and efficiency solutions now, we're going to be thankful we did that 10 to 15 years from now."
The Colorado River provides drinking water for 36 million people from Denver to Los Angeles and irrigates nearly 4 million acres of land. Those demands are expected to increase in coming decades, while climate change continues to reduce the flow.
More information is online at americanrivers.org.