Sulfate standard for wild rice sparks debate

The Senate voted this week to nullify the state’s current wild rice water quality sulfate standard, which limits sulfate discharges into waters where wild rice grows. Developed in 1973, the current 10 mg/L standard has rarely been enforced. The bill also prevents a more recently developed equation-based standard from taking effect.

The newly-passed bill prohibits the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency from adopting, modifying, or proceeding with rules pertaining to the standard without going through a new rule making process. An amendment adopted on the Senate floor appropriates $500,000 for the study of alternative solutions to restore and improve wild rice harvests.

The bill has strong support among communities in northern Minnesota, who worry about high costs related to tougher water discharge standards. Supporters say the bill puts a stop to current activities and allows time for industry, municipalities, government, and other stakeholders to work on a solution that can move forward. Opponents, including environmental organizations and Native American tribes, maintain the bill ignores the scientific research behind the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s work, and will inevitably result in litigation.

The bill passed in a 38-28 vote and goes back to the House before it goes to Governor Dayton. The Governor has not publicly stated whether or not he will sign or veto the measure. (HF 3280)