Opinion: Focusing on wild rice health

Mar 13, 2018

By Rep. Dale Lueck on Mar 13, 2018 

I recently moved bipartisan legislation forward to put new energy into protecting Minnesota’s natural wild rice.

It is time to refocus on the hydrological, biological and physical risks to wild rice health. The bill successfully cleared the House Environmental and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee and is headed for the House Government Operations Committee.

The legislation would retire an obsolete numeric-based sulfate standard and replace it with a new narrative standard that will safeguard the water quality and aquatic habitat necessary to ensure natural wild rice is not impaired or degraded, and where appropriate restore damaged natural wild rice beds.

There is agreement that the current numeric sulfate standard is obsolete and has not protected wild rice. Over the past eight years the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has been unsuccessful in replacing that standard. The most recent rule-making effort was rejected by Minnesota’s Administrative Law Court.

The irony of this failed effort is the original standard has never been enforced, despite having been on the books for over 45 years. The 1973 rule would limit sulfate discharges into waters that contain wild rice to 10 milligrams per liter, commonly referred to as 10 parts per million. To give this context the current standard for sulfate in drinking water is 250 parts per million.

Modern day science has debunked the 10 ppm sulfate standard. My frustration along with that of many others that value wild rice is the current failed effort to remake an obsolete rule has stolen the real focus on how we should be protecting natural wild rice.

To further complicate matters, if the obsolete rule was ever applied it would create millions of dollars of unwarranted costs to our rural municipal wastewater treatment plants across central and northern Minnesota. Every small city in our area would likely be impacted at some point.

It would cost our neighbor to the southwest the city of Foley (population 2,700), about $10—15 million to upgrade their wastewater treatment plant. The cost to modify the extensive Western Lake Superior Sanitary District treatment system is estimated to be an astounding $500 million dollars. That system to our northeast serves 17 communities including Duluth, Cloquet and the north shore communities.

Our small cities in District 10B including; Tamarack, McGregor, East Lake, Hill City, Aitkin,

Deerwood, Crosby, Ironton, Cuyuna, Trommald, Riverton, Emily, Crosslake, McGrath, Garrison and Fort Ripley should not be saddled with building new systems or upgrading existing systems to meet a standard that current science does not support.

It is time to refocus on the hydrological, biological and physical risks to natural wild rice. While some suggest that retiring the obsolete sulfate standard would reduce protection of wild rice, I disagree, the way forward is to approach this in a holistic manner using the talents of the wild rice experts at the DNR, within tribal governments and public sector to protect this valuable resource for the generations to come.