MN sulfate rule compromise treads water

PHOTO: U.S. Forest Service, Flickr CC

PHOTO: U.S. Forest Service, Flickr CC

While the economy will be the bigger story on the Iron Range this summer, we have a development in the ongoing saga of Minnesota’s wild rice sulfate standard and the industries and communities it affects.

Earlier this spring, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency proposed adjusting the 10 mg per liter sulfate standard designed to preserve the health of wild rice, an important Minnesota crop sacred to native peoples. The basic gist was that there is some question as to whether 10mg is always the right number, given the complicated way that harmless sulfates become harmful sulfides in water. So the MPCA set out to determine the right standard lake by lake, stream by stream, with special consideration of the areas where wild rice is most prevalent.

That sounds like a pretty good workaround, until you consider that it will take years to figure out that sort of data. What would happen in the meantime?

We have our answer. Nothing. The state has agreed not to enforce the wild rice sulfate standard until the new science is complete. There’s nothing new here, as the state has never enforced the 1970s-era wild rice standard. While everyone seems to want the science, it’s not clear to this observer how such comprehensive studies will be conducted in just two years for all the relevant lakes and streams. This kind of work is not particularly well funded by the state, so it will be patched together by a handful of very busy scientists.

At any rate, the mining companies have the delay they sought on this issue. Environmentalists and Ojibwa bands, however, will not abide this compromise for long.

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