What’s Up with the Wild Rice Standard?

Don’t take your eyes off the deck of cards while they’re shuffling. Protection of natural wild rice from sulfate pollution faces ongoing uncertainty and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency needs more backbone.

A broad coalition of tribal and non-Native ricers and the best applicable science all suggest that the State should not weaken current rules limiting sulfates in wild rice waters to 10 milligrams per liter (mg/L). See PreserveWildRiceStandard, the attached brief prepared on behalf of WaterLegacy.¬†Although pressure from mining company polluters is mounting, at least for now the ¬†Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has not folded. The Agency’s statement as of last week, While revision of the 10 mg/L sulfate criterion continues to be evaluated for the 2012 Triennial Review, it seems unlikely that sufficient data will be available to propose a revision to the numeric standard.” Could be stronger Agency folks — stick to your guns.

As usual, the devil is in the details. The Pollution Control Agency will be trying to define what should and should not be considered “water used for the production of wild rice.” If only waters with “significant” remaining natural wild rice stands are considered protected waters, it is a free pass for polluters. Don’t let polluters game the system by killing off the wild rice with sulfates and then gaining the right to pollute some more.

The Pollution Control Agency is also presuming — without writing a new rule — that the current rule providing that sulfates must be limited to “periods when the rice may be susceptible to damage by high sulfate levels” only applies to spring and summer months. The best scientific evidence suggests that sulfates are converted to hydrogen sulfide and affect both seeds and root symptoms of natural wild rice year-round. Adopting a policy favorable to polluters instead of an analysis of evidence specific to wild rice stands is considered under Minnesota law to be an “unpromulgated interpretive rule.” Statutes and case law say unpromulgated rules are not kosher.

Finally, the Agency is planning to release a draft protocol for how to study wild rice, and then start the process of consulting with tribal wild rice and plant specialists. Just once, can’t our government do this in the right order — consult with the tribal agencies first and then make the proposal?

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s most recent (December 8, 2010) positions on wild rice aren’t up on their website yet, but they are attached here. MPCA Wild Rice Positions (December 2010) The point person for your questions or comments is Gerald Blaha <Gerald.Blaha@state.mn.us>

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