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Minnesota Legislature

House votes to nullify long-standing wild rice water standard

Rep. Dale Lueck presents HF3280 on the House Floor Monday. The bill would nullify the state’s 45-year-old wild rice water quality sulfate standard and require the PCA to adopt a new rule. Photo by Andrew VonBank

The House voted Monday to nullify the water quality sulfate standard for the official state grain of Minnesota — wild rice.

Sponsored by Rep. Dale Lueck (R-Aitkin), HF3280 would nullify the state’s 45-year-old rice water quality sulfate standard and require the Pollution Control Agency to adopt a new water quality rule.

Passed 78-45, the bill now goes to the Senate where Sen. Justin Eichorn (R-Grand Rapids) is the sponsor. It was also incorporated into HF3502, the omnibus environment and natural resources finance bill, which awaits action by the House Ways and Means Committee.

The issue stems back to 2011 when the rice water standard, which limits sulfate discharges into wild rice waters to 10 milligrams per liter, was found to be scientifically unsupported. Under the direction of the Legislature, the PCA developed an equation-based replacement. That standard was rejected by an administrative law judge in January.

While Republicans largely support repealing the old standard, the DFL is less unified on the issue, with some Iron Rangers supporting the provision. The PCA, tribal organizations and environmental interests stand by the rarely enforced 1973 rule.

WATCH House Floor debate and passage of the bill 

The bill also contains a $50,000 appropriation in Fiscal Year 2018 from the game and fish fund for the Department of Natural Resources to prepare a report on the actions necessary to protect and restore the state’s naturally occurring wild rice in public waters.

An amendment by Rep. Mike Sundin (DFL-Esko) to increase that amount to $500,000 was rejected. Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL-Virginia) unsuccessfully tried to amend Sundin’s amendment to make the one-time appropriation available until June 30, 2020, instead of 2019.

“The dollars will show us if we’re meaningful today about this or not,” said Metsa, a co-sponsor of the bill.

An amendment to remove the portion of the bill that approves legislative findings and acknowledges the economic and cultural importance of the crop, was introduced by Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul). It failed 72-51.

Rep. Lueck said it is rare to put findings into law, and I would agree … I ask you to remove this,” Hansen said.

When asked by Hansen about the source of the scientific findings, Lueck said they were derived from a “compendium of local communities.” 

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