Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to review comments on wild rice sulfate standards

Brian Larsen

More than 600 comments and letters were sent to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) concerning the state’s proposed changes to the way it protects wild rice lakes and streams from sulfates. The MPCA’s request for comments ended December 18, 2015.

Sulfate, which is a by-product of hard rock mining, can be converted to sulfide by bacteria in the sediments of lakes and streams. When sulfide is found in too great concentration, it harms or kills wild rice. The state last changed its sulfate standard in 1973.

Under the new proposal, Minnesota’s current water quality standard limits sulfate in wild rice waters to 10 milligrams per liter of sulfate, but that would be replaced with an equation based on iron found in lakes and streams that would (potentially) protect wild rice from toxic sulfide formation. MPCA is also proposing a new definition for wild rice waters that uses a minimum threshold based on the number of wild rice stems in a given water and lists specific lakes, wetlands, streams, and rivers that appear to meet minimum stem count thresholds.

So far comments, which come from individuals, mining companies, Native American Bands and environmental groups, range from support of the state’s current proposal to urging the state to adopt stricter limits on the amount of acceptable sulfate found in the water.

In the meantime MPCA staff continues to work on refinements to the wild rice waters definition, and work on listing and mapping the state’s wild rice waters.

Last summer MPCA crews gathered sediment samples from wild rice beds, which are now being analyzed by scientists. Once the samples have been studied the MPCA intends to submit the underlying scientific work for peer review via scientific journal publication.

While there is much scientific debate over the subject, wild rice takes on a much greater meaning to the Anishinaabe.

The Ojibwe people have harvested wild rice, or Manoomin, for eons. It was considered a gift given to them from their Creator. The Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, along with other Ojibwe bands in Northern Minnesota, signed a treaty with the U.S. government in 1837 guaranteeing hunting and fishing and wild rice harvest rights to tribal members. Ojibwe tribes have called on the MPCA to put in place a stricter sulfate standard to protect their harvesting waters.

There will be additional opportunities for formal review and comments when the proposed rules are published in the State Register and during upcoming public hearings.

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2016-01-09 digital edition

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