But get the right ones (boingboing.net).
by Steve Timmer
Jan 25, 2014, 2:30 PM

Talk to the experts!

The Strib reports that it was revealed by the Minnesota DNR that the “water model” of the flow of water onto and off of the proposed PolyMet mine site is based on thin data. So thin that it is only one year’s data, 1984, and it is being used to predict 200 to 500 years of runoff into the future.


The data isn’t only thin, it is apparently inaccurate by a factor of three in terms of recent water flow measurement. 1984 was a low-flow year. (Which is suspiciously convenient, for reasons that will be apparent.) Even the DNR admits it’s a big deal.

New data on the flow of the nearby Partridge River indicate that some of the major assumptions used in the analysis may be three times too low, which would throw off many of the conclusions about the mine’s potential impact on water. Fixing it could require redoing the complex computer model the entire analysis is based on, officials said.

It may be safely assumed, friends, that “throw off” means “seriously underestimate.”

Environmentalists have been raising alarms over the adequacy of the data for, well, years.

“We have tried to raise a red flag on it for a long time,” said Nancy Schultz, environmental specialist for the Fond du Lac Tribe of Chippewa, which has been a participant on the environmental analysis along with other tribes and state and federal agencies. “This is one of the key parameters that you build a model on.”

But never fear, the DNR’s ramrod for the project says the DNR is on it!

Steve Colvin, who has headed the environmental review for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said state scientists are now reviewing the analysis to determine whether it needs to be redone.

“That’s one of the things our experts will have to evaluate,” he said. “Do they think there is likely to be a sufficient difference such that we would remodel it?” He said that building a model with the new data could take “some months. I don’t know if it’s a few or several. ”

The glitch came to light [a curious statement in light of Nancy Schultz’s remarks above] just as thousands of people are weighing in on it during the legally required public comment period now underway for the $650 million project.

But here’s the best part: Colvin says that the same “experts” who missed the issue in the first place will be tasked with deciding how big a problem it is. Swell. This should fill you with confidence, friends. It certainly fills PolyMet with nonchalance.

Bruce Richardson, a spokesman for PolyMet Mining Corp., which has proposed the mine, said, “It’s premature for us to speculate on what the DNR might or might not do with the information they are gathering.”

No biggie. It’ll be handled. Yeah, right.

But according to Aaron Klemz, the Communications Director for the Friends of the Boundary Waters (and formerly a writer at LeftMN), a coalition partner in Mining Truth, here’s why the model is critical.

PolyMet’s model assumes that there is little groundwater moving through the site.  As a result, the model shows water moving very slowly, and pollutants sticking to soil instead of moving with the water.  Sources of polluted water at PolyMet’s site include the mine pits, the piles of waste rock, and the tailings basin.  PolyMet’s current model shows polluted water taking decades, if not centuries, to reach nearby rivers from these sources.

If PolyMet’s model is wrong, and there is more groundwater flowing through the site than the model assumes, the polluted water from the pits and waste rock will move more easily through the soil, and reach lakes and rivers more quickly.  The water could also carry more pollutants than the model predicts.

It’s time for you to have your say about all of this. Tuesday evening, January 28th at the RiverCentre in St. Paul will be a perfect opportunity to do that. Here are the details, courtesy of the Friends of the Boundary Waters.

It will be a cold night in St. Paul, but it will be cold day you know where before we should permit somebody to flim flam us out of Minnesota’s clean water patrimony.

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