Which waters downstream of the proposed PolyMet Project are “Wild Rice Waters”?
Minnesota’s wild rice sulfate standard applies to waters “used for the production of wild rice.” Both court precedent and findings of the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings have concluded that waters with stands of natural wild rice are wild rice waters to which Minnesota’s water quality standard limiting sulfate to 10 parts per million (ppm or mg/L) applies.
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Proposal for PolyMet “Wild Rice Waters”
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) proposed using PolyMet’s 2009 and 2010 wild rice surveys and a density threshold to determine which waters downstream of the proposed PolyMet mine would be considered wild rice waters. This strategy could exclude waters in the Partridge River and Embarrass River watersheds where wild rice was previously impaired by historical taconite mining and tailings waste storage.
The MPCA has recommended (August 2012) that the following waters downstream of the PolyMet project be protected as wild rice waters:
Partridge River Watershed – Wild Rice Waters (MPCA)
The middle section of the ‘upper’ Partridge River, between the confluence with Colvin Creek and river mile approximately 22 just upstream of the railroad bridge near Allen Junction in the NW1/4, Sec. 15, T58N, R14W, is not a water used for production of wild rice.
The lower portion of the ‘upper’ Partridge River, from river mile approximately 22 just upstream of the railroad bridge near Allen Junction in the NW1/4, Sec. 15, T58N, R14W to Colby Lake, is a water used for production of wild rice.
The ‘lower’ Partridge River, below Colby Lake, in its entirety from the outlet of Colby Lake to the confluence with the St. Louis River.
The lowermost portion of Second Creek, from First Creek to the confluence with Partridge River.
Embarrass River Watershed – Wild Rice Waters (MPCA)
The portion of the Embarrass River from the MN-135 highway bridge to the inlet to Sabin Lake.
Hay Lake (located in T59N, R15W, Sec. 8).
Wynne Lake is not a water used for production of wild rice with the exception of the northernmost tip of the lake (Embarrass River inlet)
In 2017, when the MPCA proposed an exclusive list of 1,300 wild rice waters, the waters used for the production of wild rice, the MPCA’s list excludedall waters of the “upper” Partridge River, which are upstream of Colby Lake and closer to the PolyMet mine site, from its list of waters protected from sulfate pollution.
Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) Analysis of Wild Rice Waters Downstream of PolyMet
The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) analysis identified additional wild rice waters downstream of the proposed PolyMet mine project that should be protected from sulfate pollution, using PolyMet’s wild rice surveys and additional historical information. Several of these waters are closer to potential discharge locations than the waters identified by the MPCA:
Additional Wild Rice Waters – Partridge River Watershed (GLIFWC)
Longnose Creek, a tributary of the upper Partridge River, near the proposed mine site.
Additional Wild Rice Waters – Embarrass River Watershed (GLIFWC) – located closer to the proposed tailings facility than the waters identifies by the MPCA.
Embarrass River upstream of Embarrass Lake and Wynne Lake as well as upstream of Sabin Lake.
Embarrass River and Unnamed Creek (also known as Rice Farm Creek) at the location of the 1957-1993 paddy wild rice site at Rice Creek Farm.
GLIWFC’s map showing wild rice in the Partridge River Watershed is provided at the top of this page, and the GLIFWC map showing wild rice in the Upper Embarrass River Watershed is reproduced below.
WaterLegacy has also argued for a more comprehensive definition of wild rice waters downstream of PolyMet, consistent with the survey information and the Clean Water Act.