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Letter: The politics of protecting wild rice

Wild rice grows in water, but not just any kind of water. It turns out the biology of where rice grows in Minnesota is very complicated.

In this part of the state, the amount of sulfate found naturally in the water and the amount added by mining and wastewater treatment facilities can become too high for rice to survive.

Sulfate by itself does not kill the rice, bacteria in the silt turns sulfate into sulfide and at a concentration of 10 parts per million sulfate, enough sulfide is produced that makes rice seed production drop off.

The science establishing the sulfate 10 ppm standard is being criticized by Republicans and Rep. Steve Green, because it was established 45 years ago based on research done by the University of Minnesota, so they consider it "obsolete" science and not applicable today.

Turns out over the last eight years the Minnesota pollution Control Agency has extended and refined their research on where rice grows and does not grow. The new research suggests a standard within the range of 4-16 ppm sulfate. The old standard of 10 ppm sulfate found back 45 years ago falls right in the middle of the new range. The old science was, and still is, solid.

To account for differences in lakes and rivers, the PCA proposed a new, more inclusive, formula for evaluating sulfate levels. An administrative law judge ruled the new formula was too complicated and failed to protect rice more than what the current 10 ppm standard would do.

Not liking the new research that backed the old standard of 10 ppm sulfate, Republicans proposed and passed a bill in both houses that supposedly would protect rice into the future, while the PCA would be forced to go through the whole rule-making process again to establish a standard more to their political liking.

In reality, the Republican bill effectively makes the 10 ppm standard unenforceable, leaving rice totally unprotected.

Based on good science, Gov. Dayton vetoed the bill, doing what was right for wild rice and Minnesotans.

Enforcing this standard immediately would be expensive. To spread out the costs, the PCA would work with industries in granting permits to slowly work towards meeting the 10 ppm standard over a period of years.

Rep. Green and the Republicans have misled their constituents into thinking their bill would have protected wild rice. Instead, it would have removed all protection and left wastewater treatment and mining companies free to dump sulfate without limits.

When you vote this fall, remember this and the many other misleading statements made by Rep. Green.—Steve Lindow, Ponsford