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MPCA to list polluted rice waters

By Stephanie Hemphill, Minnesota Public Radio News

ST. PAUL – Lakes and rivers that cannot sustain wild rice beds due to pollution will be added to a list compiled by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The Clean Water Act requires states to list impaired waters and clean them up, but until a recent request from a citizen’s group, the state did not list impaired wild rice waters.

Researchers point to sulfate, much of it from iron mining, as a major cause of decline in wild rice beds.

An attorney with the non-profit group Water Legacy, Paula Maccabee, asked the MPCA to create the list.

“We were hearing from ricers and tribal people and environmental groups up north that wild rice was being degraded and destroyed as result of sulfate pollution,” Maccabee said.

“Until Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recognizes that impairment, there’s no real mechanism to make an overall solution, water body by water body, of that problem.”

The MPCA is supervising a major research project to determine what the state’s sulfate standard should be. Results won’t be known for at least another year.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is suing to loosen the standard. The group’s environmental consultant, Mike Robertson, said it would be better to wait until the state has decided whether to change the standard.

“Why would you go through a costly process of designating waters under the old standard if there’s going to be potentially a new standard in the near future,” Robertson said.