Lake Superior Day 5

The Duluth/Superior area is obviously a busy shipping harbor, but it is also a nexus for oil transport as gas from the Bakken and crude from Alberta move toward eastern markets. A recent proposal floated the idea of shipping crude across the Great Lakes in container vessels filled at a Superior pipeline terminus, while trains carrying oil through town have increased exponentially. The group discussed the two port cities’ role in our energy infrastructure with experts from Minnesota Sea Grant and the Duluth-Superior Metropolitan Interstate Council. 

Meanwhile, shipping on the Great Lakes brings in more than just goods. It’s estimated that there are 186 different invasive species in the Great Lakes. Most of them came into the system in the holds of ballast tanks, as ships took in freshwater from far-flung ecosystems, then discharged that weight as they took on cargo in Great Lakes ports. New technologies created to sanitize ballast tanks is being field-tested on ships this summer. The group heard about the latest advances in the invasive species battle at the Great Ships Initiative’s ballast water treatment facility.

Following the morning's discussions, the journalists headed out to the St. Louis River Estuary, which, like a lot of Great Lakes tributaries, has a history riddled with industrial pollution and general neglect. Designated an Area of Concern in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 1987, the river now appears to be on its way back, thanks in large part to funds committed to restoration efforts through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The groups toured parts of the estuary where clean up is underway, and talked with representatives of Minnesota Land Trust, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the Department of Natural Resources,and the city of Duluth about plans for the river as it shakes off its polluted past. 

Finally, the group went to see another kind of restoration project. More than one thousand years ago, the Anishinaabe people were visited by a prophet who sent them Westward looking for the “food that grows on water.” Wild rice, or manoomin, has been an important cultural staple ever since. It has also become a sought after food in many northern states. Unfortunately, wild rice is extremely sensitive to pollution, water level variations and other environmental disturbances  – a fact that has had the plant struggling in recent years. But the Fond Du Lac tribe has exciting new restoration efforts under way in the St. Louis River Estuary, and the group had a chance to travel out via airboat to see the projects for themselves.