Message From Director
FINALLY….SOME POSITIVE NEWS FOR THE RANGE
MPCA Admits….No Solution in Sight on Wild Rice Sulfate Issue
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) finally released the comprehensive independent report conducted by Bolton & Menk, Inc. and Barr Engineering Company on the affordability of sulfate removal from wastewater, as well as looking at alternative treatment methods for sulfate removal. Minnesota is the only state in the nation that has a sulfate standard for wild rice waters. The standard developed from research in the 1940’s is intended to protect wild rice but has never been enforced since put into law in 1973.
The Minnesota legislature providing financing and a directive to the MPCA in recent years, to undergo new research on the impacts of sulfate on wild rice, conduct public hearings, develop a new standard and determine the cost of treatment for local municipalities and industrial dischargers. After several years of contested research, many public hearings, and a new proposed standard, an administrative law judge determined the new rule was “constitutionally vague and unenforceable”. Subsequently, the legislature passed bills to abolish the standard and provide additional funding for wild rice restoration, which Governor Dayton vetoed (twice). All of this occurred before this affordability report was completed and released calling into question the wisdom of spending all that time and effort at the Capitol last session on this issue.
The report states in plain English the following determination: “The study results show that reverse osmosis is the one treatment method that is closest to being feasible – but that it is NOT currently affordable. The 30 other treatment processes evaluated either would not effectively remove sulfate from wastewater, were not yet developed enough to be used, or would cost even more than reverse osmosis.” This is virtually the same testimony provided at the MPCA public hearing on this matter by RAMS, and the same position taken by our organization on behalf of the 13 Iron Range communities targeted as having wastewater plants that discharge to wild rice waters as identified by the MPCA.
At the end of the legislative session, after twice vetoing bills to correct this situation, Governor Dayton issued an executive order to establish a task force on wild rice. The task force would be made up by a diverse group of people representing industry, our native tribes, environmentalist, independent scientists, a public waste water operator and a non-government representative along with staff from the MPCA and DNR. The task force was to meet and develop recommendations for the 2019 legislative session by December 15, 2018. To date the task force has not been selected making their task virtually untenable for this important issue.
Two final points of interest. The firms conducting this independent study were allowed to analyze treatment options that would result in a final sulfate limit of 250 mg/L, not the current standard of 10 mg/L. For those who don’t know the standard for potable water is 250 mg/L, so why is the standard for wastewater so much lower? The report also states: ”Sulfur in wastewater is most commonly present as sulfate or sulfide, which originates primarily from drinking water sources, human waste, and industrial discharges. More than 95% of municipalities in Minnesota use groundwater as the source for their drinking water. The concentrations of sulfate in the groundwater vary geographically across the state from less than 10 mg/L to over 500 mg/L.
Unfortunately, this issue was not addressed in the last session and will once again be in front of the legislature and the new Governor in 2019. Perhaps common sense can be applied to the problem this time now that much needed information around costs and feasibility of treatment options are now available.
This should not be that difficult. Make a permanent funding source available for wild rice growth and rehabilitation efforts. Allow our native people to control water levels and invasive species proven to be one of the most detrimental factors to wild rice growth and Minnesota will have a vibrant natural wild rice crop for generations. Isn’t that what we all want?