Sulfate Pollution – Protecting Wild Rice

WaterLegacy – Working to Protect the Wild Rice Sulfate Standard Since 2010

Minnesota’s wild rice sulfate standard was enacted in 1973 and approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the federal Clean Water Act. Both the Fond du Lac and the Grand Portage Bands of Lake Superior Chippewa, which have authority to set water quality standards for their reservations under the Clean Water Act, have a similar water quality standard limiting sulfate to 10 parts per million (ppm or mg/L) to protect wild rice waters.

In 2010, the EPA told the MPCA that, under the federal Clean Water Act, Minnesota was required to enforce its wild rice sulfate standard.

Since then, mining company lobbyists, lawyers, proxies and politicians have sought to eliminate or weaken Minnesota’s wild rice sulfate standard and to limit the number of wild rice lakes and streams that can be protected from sulfate pollution.

WaterLegacy has worked since 2010 in collaboration with tribal staff, tribal members, independent scientists, other conservation groups, and thousands of Minnesota citizen activists to protect clean water and wild rice and to preserve Minnesota’s existing wild rice sulfate standard.

Litigation to Preserve Wild Rice Sulfate Standard: The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, on behalf of mining companies, sued in December 2010 to block any enforcement of Minnesota’s wild rice sulfate standard. WaterLegacy intervened and won the case in the Minnesota District Court and Court of Appeals, preserving the wild rice sulfate standard.

Opposing Legislation to Weaken Wild Rice ProtectionSince 2011, politicians have tried to undermine, block enforcement of, and repeal the wild rice sulfate standard. In 2018, citizens and advocates won a critical victory when Governor Mark Dayton vetoedtwo bills that would have repealed the wild rice sulfate standard, blocked sulfate limits on most wild rice waters and violated the federal Clean Water Act.

Rulemaking & ALJ Ruling Protecting Wild Rice: WaterLegacy worked in partnership with tribes to lead efforts to protect the wild rice sulfate standard and comprehensive listing of wild rice waters, consistent with science and law. In January 2018, we won a huge victory when an Administrative Law Judge and the Chief Judge disapproved a rulethat would have repealed the wild rice sulfate rule and imposed an artificial limit on which wild rice waters would be protected.

Science – Effects of Sulfate Pollution: In the course of serving from 2011 through 2017 on the MPCA’s Wild Rice Sulfate Standard Advisory Task Force, we learned a great deal about current scientific evidence of the effects of sulfate pollution on wild rice, increased mercury methylation and bioaccumulation in fish and other ecological harm caused by sulfate pollution. Important research is shared here.

PolyMet “Wild Rice Waters”: Protection of downstream waters from sulfide mining requires a robust and accurate identification of wild rice waters that are potentially affected. WaterLegacy and tribes have opposed artificial limits on waters downstream of the proposed PolyMet project.

WaterLegacy’s campaign to Defend Clean Water reflects our commitment to preserve Minnesota’s wild rice sulfate standard and apply that standard in permits, enforcement and in listing and cleanup of impaired waters.

READ about WaterLegacy’s Petition to the EPA to withdraw Minnesota’s authority to regulate water pollution due to failure to enforce limits on mining pollution, including sulfate discharge exceeding Minnesota’s wild rice sulfate standard.

READ about WaterLegacy’s efforts since 2012 to require the MPCA to list wild rice waters that are impaired for sulfate pollution so that these waters can be studied and restored.

Why Is Protecting Wild Rice (Manoomin) So Important for Minnesota?

  • Natural wild rice has enormous ecological value — protecting water quality, reducing algae blooms, and providing habitat for fish, mammals and wildfowl.
  • Minnesota’s wild rice standard limiting sulfate pollution is needed to protect tribal resources, natural food and a critical ecosystem.
  • Preventing sulfate pollution is important to forestall increased methylmercury contamination of fish. Methylmercury in fish is a neurotoxin, especially affecting brain development in children and the unborn fetus.
  • Enforcement of Minnesota’s wild rice sulfate standard will require existing and proposed mining facilities to collect and treat their polluted wastewater before discharging it to Minnesota wetlands, streams and rivers. Copper-nickel mines in sulfide-bearing rock near wild rice waters would need to collect, pump and treat water during mining operations and, potentially, for hundreds of years thereafter.

READ WaterLegacy Fact Sheet: Protecting Minnesota Clean Water and Wild Rice from Sulfate Pollution –Learn about the science supporting sulfate pollution control, the importance of wild rice, the Minnesota laws adopted to regulate sulfate pollution, the undue influence of the mining industry in opposing pollution controls, and the need to make progress in controlling sulfate pollution.

READ WaterLegacy Fact Sheet: Wild Rice and Sulfate Background – Learn basic facts about wild rice and Minnesota’s water quality rule limiting sulfates to 10 parts per million to protect wild rice.

Brian Peterson •: Star Tribune File 1991

READ WaterLegacy’s December 2015 Star Tribune Counterpoint: Yes, it’s time — to uphold, not raise, sulfate limits

Pollution already has decimated wild rice, degraded some northern Minnesota streams and lakes so they can’t support fish, and harmed Minnesota’s children. It is bad policy and just plain wrong to let the mining industry decide what limits should be placed on sulfate and other pollutants.

READ WaterLegacy’s February 2014 Star Tribune Counterpoint: The science is clear: Protect our wild rice

Wild rice is Minnesota’s state grain, an important tribal resource, and a vital plant to support aquatic life, ducks and mammals. The state has permanently lost tens of thousands of acres of this resource. Resource managers believe wild rice is in crisis…

Powerful interests can claim otherwise, but the scientific evidence shows that sulfate pollution must be controlled to protect natural wild rice…

The Earth is not flat, there is no tooth fairy and sulfate limits are required to protect natural stands of wild rice.