ST. PAUL - A bipartisan bill Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, authored to put new energy and focus on protecting Minnesota’s natural wild rice resources successfully completed its first step in the legislative process Thursday by clearing the House Environmental and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee.
Lueck said the current numeric-based sulfate standard is obsolete and has gone unenforced. His bill (H.F. 3280) would replace it with a narrative standard he said would safeguard the water quality and aquatic habitat necessary to ensure natural wild rice is protected and our wild rice beds are not materially impaired or degraded.
“An important element of the legislation is providing the DNR commissioner with the authority and funding to convene a wild rice work group,” Lueck said. “State, tribal and public experts would collaborate to ensure the maximum benefit for natural wild rice is achieved through protection, restoration and enhancement activities.”
Lueck said the 45-year-old numeric sulfate standard, if applied today, would create millions of dollars in unwarranted costs the states rural municipal waste water treatment plants in areas of the state where natural wild rice occurs. Lueck also said application of the numeric standard would also drive the cost of mining up to the point that it would threaten economic survival of Northeast Minnesota which depends on mining, forestry and tourism as the base for those local economies.
“The task here is to refocus on protecting wild rice by considering the hydrological, biological and physical risk to wild rice health,” Lueck said. “For far too long we have been focused on trying to develop and apply a numeric sulfate standard that frankly has little to do with the overall health of our rice beds. We need to approach this task in a holistic manner using the talents of the wild rice experts at the DNR, within tribal governments and in public sector to protect this valuable resource.”