In 1995 the State of Michigan filed a lawsuit against Hannah Mining Company seeking retribution for environmental damages caused by mining operations at the Buck & Dober Mines. Specifically, the suit alleged that acid mine drainage from these mines was one of the most damaging influences to the Iron River Watershed. The parties agreed to a settlement in which Hanna Mining Company was required to design and implement methods limiting acid runoff and to pay $318,000 in compensatory damages. The settlement funds, earmarked specifically to repair, enhance, or protect the Iron River as well as to provide for increased public use, were to be administered by the State of Michigan and then managed by a newly formed Watershed Council.
In 1997 Iron County residents from varying backgrounds and professions joined together to form the Iron River Watershed Council. This group recognized the importance the Iron River had to our community and believed that by protecting, promoting, and improving the Iron River they could rectify some of the past damages and ensure that the Iron River Watershed would remain a viable resource.
In 1999, through the efforts of the Iron River Watershed Council, the Iron County Soil & Conservation District was awarded a grant to begin development of a management plan for the Iron River Watershed. Beginning that summer and continuing for two years, with the Iron River Watershed Council acting as a steering committee, scientists studied the Iron River Watershed and developed strategies to address sources of pollution.
In 2001, completion of the Iron River Watershed Comprehensive Management Plan marked a new phase of the watershed project:implementation of a plan designed to improve the watershed and to inform and educate its residents and visitors about the importance of good stewardship with respect to watersheds. Additional grants, authorized and provided for by Section 319 of the Federal Clean Water Act and the Clean Michigan Initiative, have provided funding for the implementation of the management plan which continues to guide efforts to most effectively sustain the Iron River Watershed.
In 2009 the Council changed its name to the “Iron County Watershed Coalition” indicating the group’s intent to work on behalf of all seven major watersheds located within Iron County.