Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Proposes Rule To Eliminate Existing Limit on Sulfates in Wild Rice Waters!

MPCA Proposed Rule would also Restrict Wild Rice Waters Given Protection.

Despite comments from WaterLegacy, research scientists, tribal experts and thousands of citizens, the MPCA has proposed to change Minnesota rules to eliminate Minnesota’s existing limit on sulfate of 10 parts per million (10 mg/L) and  replaced the wild rice sulfate rule with an equation that would allow high levels of sulfate pollution where there are also high levels of iron.

The MPCA’s proposed rule would also set an arbitrary stem density and acreage requirement that would serve to limit the number of wild rice waters subject to any type of protection. In restricting the number of wild rice waters, the MPCA has effectively “declassified” hundreds of lakes and streams already determined by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to be wild rice waters.

Finally, the MPCA’s proposed rule would provide various loopholes to prevent enforcement of its equation that already fails to protect wild rice from extinction. The MPCA would allow highly elevated levels of sulfate if they averaged out over the course of a year. Even if sulfate discharged during a year violated a limit set for a water body, the MPCA wouldn’t take action unless there were at least two years of violations in 10 years. The MPCA has also admitted to members of its Wild Rice Advisory Committee, on which WaterLegacy served, that it would take at least 10 years to set new sulfate limits for each individual Minnesota wild rice water. This time delay doesn’t count updating permits or potential lawsuits by each individual polluter to challenge its sulfate limit.

As Minnesota’s first copper-nickel mine, the PolyMet sulfide mine, seeks a water pollution permit from the MPCA, this is the worst possible time to get rid of Minnesota’s limit on sulfate pollution in wild rice waters.

SIGN A PETITION and SUBMIT YOUR OWN COMMENT opposing MPCA’s proposed elimination of Minnesota’s existing wild rice sulfate standard.

ATTEND AND SPEAK UP AT A HEARING to oppose MPCA’s proposed rule and protect wild rice and clean water. Choose a hearing near you:

St. Paul: October 23, 2017 (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
Harold E. Stassen Building (Skjestadt Room)
600 North Robert St., St. Paul, MN 55101 
Bemidji: October 25, 2017 (4 p.m. to 9 p.m.)
Bemidji State University (Beaux Arts Ballroom)
1500 Birchmont Dr. NE, Bemidji, MN 56601
Cloquet: October 26, 2017 (3:00 to 7:00)
Fond du Lac Tribal Community College  (Amphitheater) 
2101 14th St., Cloquet, MN 55720
Brainerd: October 30, 2017 (4 p.m. to 9 p.m.)
Central Lakes Community College (Cafeteria)
501 West College Dr., Brainerd, MN 56401
St. Paul: November 2, 2017 (4 p.m. to 9 p.m.)
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Offices
520 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN  (55155)


  • Minnesota’s wild rice sulfate limit was enacted in 1973 and approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in compliance with the Clean Water Act.

  • Lobbying by corporate polluters led by mining interests and political pressure has blocked enforcement of Minnesota’s existing wild rice sulfate standard. The Minnesota Legislature passed a law in 2011 spending $1.5 million to study the wild rice rule and passed laws since then preventing any enforcement of sulfate limits until the rule was changed.  

  • After the scientific studies of wild rice and sulfate were completed, in February 2014, the MPCA concluded: “The [existing] 10 mg/L sulfate standard is needed and reasonable to protect wild rice production from sulfate - driven sulfide toxicity.” The next day, an MPCA meeting with Iron Range legislators “went poorly” and the MPCA withdrew its own findings and support for Minnesota’s existing wild rice sulfate standard. READ the MPCA’s original position in February 2014.

  • Minnesota’s existing limit on sulfate pollution is needed to protect wild rice and prevent disproportionate harm to tribes and low-income families that rely on wild rice for food.

  • In addition to destroying wild rice, sulfate increases mercury methylation and toxic methylmercury contamination of fish. Methylmercury is a potent neurotoxic, harming the developing brains of fetuses, infants and children in Minnesota.

  • Sulfate pollution can also release phosphorus from sediments, leading to eutrophication (algae blooms) in once-clear lakes. 

  • To protect wild rice, reduce mercury contamination of fish and prevent additional eutrophication of lakes, the MPCA should keep and enforce Minnesota’s existing (10 mg/L) wild rice sulfate limit year-round in all wild rice waters.




CONTACT alex@waterlegacy.org or Paula@waterlegacy.org to learn more about upcoming hearings and opportunities to comment on the MPCA’s proposed 

READ HERE TO FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION about the science of wild rice and sulfate pollution and about WaterLegacy’s years of advocacy to protect wild rice. 


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