Pollution control officials to hold meetings on wild rice sulfate rule

Trails created by dozens of canoes.
Trails created by dozens of canoes lead into wild rice beds on Lower Rice Lake on Sept. 30, 2015.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News 2015

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is holding the first of three meetings Tuesday night in St. Paul on proposed changes to a longstanding rule limiting the amount of sulfate that can be discharged into wild rice waters.

Sulfate is a naturally occurring chemical, but is also discharged from taconite mines, wastewater treatment plants and other industrial facilities.

The state has had a rule on the books since 1973 limiting the amount of sulfate that can be discharged to a specific level. But it's rarely been enforced.

For the past several years the MPCA has worked on a new rule that proposes to replace a one-size-fits-all approach with a flexible standard that will set a separate sulfate limit for each water body where wild rice grows.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is Member supported public media. Show your support today, donate, and ensure access to local news and in-depth conversations for everyone.

"The extent to which sulfate affects wild rice, is dependent not just on how much sulfate is in the water, but also on a couple of key things that happen in the sediment where the wild rice grows," explained Shannon Lotthammer, director of the agency's Environmental Analysis and Outcomes Division.

The MPCA plans to release its draft rule in the spring.

It will also identify the specific water bodies where the rule could potentially be enforced, places where wild rice currently grows, or where it's been documented to grow since 1975.

"The wild rice sulfate interaction is more complex than we see with some other chemicals," said the Lotthammer. "That's why we want to do a good job of giving people the opportunity to learn about this before we get to the formal public notice process."

The state Legislature has imposed a deadline of January 2018 to complete the rulemaking.

If you go: MPCA wild rice sulfate open houses

• 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Dakota Lodge, Thompson County Park, 1200 Stassen Lane, West St Paul

• 6:30-8:30 p.m., University of Minnesota-Duluth, Kirby Student Center, Griggs Center, second floor, 1120 Kirby Drive, Duluth

• 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 31, Northeast Service Cooperative Office, 5525 Emerald Drive, Mountain Iron, Minn.