Wild Rice Beds with Open Water
Water is life? Not so much in Minnesota. This is Trahant Reports.
The Minnesota Legislature, supported by the mining industry, last week voted to weaken water standards for sulfates in areas where wild rice grows.
Wild rice is the essential Ojibwe food.
The legislation is not final — and Gov. Mark Dayton has not said whether he’ll sign or veto the measure.
Last month when the bill was before the House, Rep. Peggy Flanagan spoke against weakening the water standards. “If wild rice no longer exists, we no longer exist,” she said. “This is our home. We can’t go anywhere else. So if manoomin goes away, we go away. Maybe that’s the point.”
Flanagan, White Earth Ojibwe, is a Democrat-Farm-Labor candidate for Lt. Governor.
Mining companies, as well as Northern Minnesota communities, complained that the standards were too stringent and expensive.
PolyMet Mining Corporation has proposed a copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lake. The mining permit has not yet been issued, but under the old rules, the company would have had to treat the open pit mine and tailings indefinitely to remove sulfate from the water. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune that would have cost the company about $1 billion.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency had already said it would bring together scientists and policymakers “to determine an alternative path forward.” And other critics have said that an outright repeal of the water standards could violate the federal Clean Water Act.
One problem is that the old water quality standard was never enforced. “Up until now, the standard has maintained that sulfate should not enter wild rice waters in higher quantities than 10 parts per million,” according to a blog post from Honor The Earth. “The new proposed rule would make a different standard for every lake and wetland with wild rice – an unbelievably complicated and costly rule to implement.” That is the rule that the Senate proposed be withdrawn.
An op-ed by Kevin Dupuis, president of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, and Kathryn Hoffman with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy called the legislation ‘a sell out to the very identity of Minnesotans.’
They wrote: “Tribes and environmental advocates might be the most vocal protectors of wild rice, but we know that the great unifier of Minnesotans is our water. Water is who we are. It is not too late. Minnesotans — lovers of wild rice, lakes and all waters — we must unite to protect our very identity.”
I am Mark Trahant.