Editor’s note: MPR News director Mike Edgerly is the lead editor for MPR News’ environmental coverage. Here are his thoughts on the big environmental stories of the year.

Water, copper-nickel mining and climate change were the top environmental topics for MPR News in 2014. Concerns about pipelines carrying crude oil, the decline in pollinators and the anniversary of the Wilderness Act that created the Boundary Waters Canoe Area are also on the list.

Water worries in the land of sky blue waters

Kevin Gorter guides a section of a pipe picked up by a backhoe to be placed in a ditch near the airport in Marshall, Minn. on April, 14, 2014. The $13 million water pipeline project is expected to raise water bills for Marshall residents. Jackson Forderer / For MPR News

The impetus for all our water reporting can be found in the opening paragraph of the project that explored the threats to our supply of water in the state, Beneath the Surface:

Even in the land of 10,000 lakes, water is no longer unlimited. Lakes shrink, groundwater drops, wells go dry or get contaminated. Some cities have to look harder for good municipal water or pay more to treat it.

Twenty years ago these were isolated problems. But three-quarters of Minnesota’s residents get their water from aquifer-tapping wells, and today parts of the state seem to be on a path that is not sustainable.

In a separate investigation, Mark Steil focused on unpermitted use of groundwater. He found that many people take lots of water without permits. Taking water without permits means no one knows exactly how much groundwater is being pumped out. But the estimate is that billions of gallons of pumped water are unaccounted.

Docks extend into White Bear Lake, where water levels have steadily decreased over the last decade, in White Bear Lake, Minn. September 2011. Jeffrey Thompson / MPR News

As important as groundwater is, the most visible symbol of the challenges facing the state’s water supply is White Bear Lake. White Bear Lake’s historically low levels led to a lawsuit that could mean water from the Mississippi River is used to satisfy needs of north east metro.

Copper-nickel mining moves forward

Polymet CEO Jon Cherry. Derek Montgomery / For MPR News

2014 was the year when the public’s voice was heard on plans by Polymet to open a copper-nickel mine in northeast Minnesota. As the year unfolded, we were able to understand more about Polymet’s finances, technology and water treatment plans.

Oil pipeline growth

Oil pipelines have long crossed Minnesota carrying crude to processors in the Midwest and beyond. More pipelines are being proposed and that has generated interest in whether pipelines, should one fail, pose a potential threat to land and water and wildlife.

Bee deaths

The deaths of big numbers of honey bees has lots of people scrambling to improve habitat for pollinators.

50 years in the wild

The Wilderness Act turned 50 this year. The BWCA was born out of the Wilderness Act and the wounds over the debate over protecting 1 million acres in northeast Minnesota are still fresh.

What’s next?

Looking out to 2015 the issues will remain largely the same: climate change, copper-nickel mining, water, oil transport, threats to wild spaces and critters.

Minnesota is a fine place for photographers to hone their skills. The MPR News Flickr pool reflects a diverse picture of our state and the people who call Minnesota home. More than 5,500 images have been submitted to our Flickr collection. As 2014 draws to a close, we selected one photograph for each of the past 12 months to highlight.

Have a compelling image of a person, place or event? Consider submitting it here.

January. Photo by Jacob Norlund / MPR News Flickr pool February. Photo by Clint McMahon / MPR News Flickr pool March. Photo by Darcy Sime / MPR News Flickr pool April. Photo by Bryan Hansel / MPR News Flickr pool May. Photo by Jacob Norlund / MPR News Flickr pool June. Photo by Clint McMahon / MPR News Flickr pool July. Photo by Jacob Norlund / MPR News Flickr pool August. Photo by Scott Henderson / MPR News Flickr pool September. Photo by Darcy Sime / MPR News Flickr pool October. Photo by Darcy Sime / MPR News Flickr pool November. Photo by Jamie Rabold / MPR News Flickr pool December. Photo by Altamish Osman / MPR News Flickr pool

The Boundary Waters is often described as a pristine nature getaway. With 1,500 miles of canoe routes it’s easy to forget the time admiring the endless amount of beauty. Amid this beautiful escape memories are made in campsites along the shores, while campers are working hard portaging and canoeing, and spending time with friends and family.

Courtesy of Monty Mertz

The Boundary Waters’ beauty has been preserved for the past 50 years by the Wilderness Act. The Act protects 1 million acres of the Boundary Waters, MPR News reported, and ensures that future generations can enjoy a piece of Minnesota’s natural habitat.

Two Harbors resident Gordon Hommes first traveled to the Boundary Waters when he was a kid with his Boy Scout troop. Since then Hommes makes a point to visit the Boundary Waters at least three times a year, which always includes a dogsled trip in the winter, a trip during fishing opener, and a two week summer canoe trip. If he’s lucky he gets to visit the Boundary Waters another time during the year with his family.

Courtesy of Gordon Hommes

Hommes and his oldest son, who was 11 at the time, went on a five day excursion in the Boundary Waters a few summers ago. “I wanted to show him a pristine sky, completely free from light pollution, now very rare in most of the Lower 48 states,” he said.

Hommes was good on his promise. “The Milky Way was bright all the way down to the horizon, and the stars were so bright and numerous in the moon-free sky that they cast shadows on the ground.” His oldest son is now a nature fanatic like his old man, Hommes said.

A childhood voyage to the Boundary Waters became the reason Alyssa Johnson began to become a fan of nature.

“Distinctly, I remember weighing 90 pounds. My pack weighed exactly 45 pounds, half my weight,” Johnson said about her first trip to the Boundary Waters when she was 10 years old. She recalls the peacefulness of the lake and sending young frogs down small waterfalls and watching them swim towards shore.

Johnson said she was “dragged” by her father to go on the trip, but now she can only thank him for it. “My trip to the BWCA was such a serene, close-to-nature experience, and it only fed my intense love for the Minnesota outdoors.”

Though the Boundary Waters are indeed beautiful, the hard work of portaging and grittiness that the wilderness offers is another lasting memory. “It was the first time in my fourteen years that I was far away from ‘civilization,'” Lauree Guyer explained about her first Boundary Waters trip she took as a teenager.

“The only signs of other people ever having been there were small wooden signs indicating how long the portages were, and a couple of campfire remains,” Guyer said. “It was a very freeing feeling for me, and I have always cherished the peace, comfort, and adventure I feel when trekking through the woods.”

Debra Moon- Akason, who also went to the Boundary Waters as a teenager, specifically remembers the alienating feeling of not being near civilization and not having what are now considered normal amenities. “It was quite the experience for a suburbanite teenager,” Moon-Akason said. “Drinking water from the lake, which we added some sort of tablet that purified it?! Then of course [we] added Kool-aid to it and nicknamed it ‘bug juice’ because it always had a bug, or three, in it.”

Courtesy of Jamie Kallestad

Self-proclaimed “BWCA Evangelist” Jamie Kallestad had a similar experience battling the wilderness with a group of his college friends. A majority of their trip was spent on figuring out creative ways to keep warm and dry, he said.

“In working so hard to stay warm and protected from the elements, our ‘civilized’ anxieties about work and school just fell away,” Kallestad said.”We achieved a new level of escape. As my co-captain murmured before falling asleep on our last night, ‘It’s amazing to be dry in a very wet world.’ Amen.”

Simplicity. That’s what the Boundary Waters has offered many. For some that’s admiring the beauty that surrounds us.

Mary Cody tries to explain her time at the Boundary Waters and all the wonders she witnessed: “Listening to wolves howling on my birthday was an absolute top notch experience. But then so was swimming at night, in the fog, in perfectly calm water, feeling like there was no boundary between earth and sky, like floating in space. Or maybe it was sitting in the canoe, also at night, again on perfectly calm water, with a full sky of stars reflected in the water- 360 degrees of stars. Or maybe laying on a big, flat rock in the lake watching the northern lights, exhausted from a day of paddling and portaging but not wanting to fall asleep ever.”

Courtesy of Roger O’Daniel

It’s all these things and more that replay over and over in the minds of those who have visited, and there’s the Wilderness Act to thank for that.

Quotes and photos were submitted to MPR News via Public Insight Network. You can read more and share your own memories here, or tell us about your BWCAW memories in the comments below.