Lawsuit Aims to Loosen Wild Rice Water Standards

A lawsuit filed Friday by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce seeks to loosen water quality standards in areas where wild rice is grown, saying current regulations are too restrictive and based on faulty science.

Wild rice (Zizania aquatica or Zizania palustris), image courtesy Minnesota Office of the Secretary of State

The Duluth News Tribune covered the story HERE.

The suit targets the level of sulfates released in waters where wild rice is grown. Currently, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency restricts emission to 10 milligrams of sulfates per liter of water. Sulfate emissions, which can come from a variety of waste water sources, are an environmental concern for the planned copper-nickel mining projects in Northeastern Minnesota.

The Chamber of Commerce suit claims that the state is holding the mining industry to a higher standard when it comes to sulfates.  It also argues that emission levels were set based on research on paddy-grown wild rice, rather than naturally occurring wild rice.

Environmental organizations and Ojibwe tribal agencies say current standards should be strictly enforced. High sulfate levels have been shown to damage plants and are suspected of damaging wild rice seeds. Environmental groups claim the proposed mining operations cannot meet the current sulfate standards, so mining companies, through the chamber of Commerce, are trying to change the regulations instead.

The MPCA is currently reviewing a broad range of water quality regulations, including clarifying which waters should be classified as “wild rice production waters.” The agency, according to the News Tribune story, is not proposing new emission standards at this time.

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