The decision by Administrative Law Judge LauraSue Schlatter to reject the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s new wild rice sulfate standard should stand as a wake-up call to the agency and Legislature.
Minnesota’s current sulfate rule is based on shoddy data and attempts to make it formula-based failed miserably. That doesn’t mean the MPCA is out of options. It can go back to the drawing board and try this again, and while its intention to protect wild rice is fine, the state’s approach has much to desired.
Peer reviewed studies looking at sulfate and sulfide in wild rice lakes show the crop can take a lot more than 10 parts per million the current standard suggests. Those same studies showed wild rice is impacted just as much by other minerals in the water — iron, for example, seemed to help crops.
That throws a wrench into a one-size-fits-all formula or standard. A lake in northeastern Minnesota with rice-friendly iron is going to act differently than a lake in southwestern Minnesota.
What Minnesota should be doing now is digging into answers on the different conditions that impact wild rice and work from there. Instead, regulators have opted for the approach that only assumes the culprit. Finding real answers about what impacts wild rice lakes is the only sensible approach.
And knowing the current 1973 wild rice sulfate standard is not only proven faulty, but also not enforced, the state finds itself in quite the predicament.
Perhaps the Legislature or federal authorities would be wise to simply scrap the sulfate rule, something 49 other states do not have, until it has narrowed down the impacts with more solid science and data — and more cost-friendly solutions.
What the MPCA proposed last year would have crippled industries from mining to farming and placed unreachable sums of money on local communities to upgrade their wastewater facilities.
Any rule with that much of a financial strain to the livelihood of any Minnesota community — conceived under shaky numbers — is a rule that is below the standard the people of Minnesota expect.