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Pollution Control Agency seeks more time to study pollution impact on wild rice

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On Wednesday, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency released preliminary findings on how much sulfate pollution in lakes and rivers is too much for the state's wild rice, a process that is being monitored by Indian tribes, mining companies and environmental groups.

But the Star Tribune reports the PCA postponed its much-anticipated final decision on water quality standards because it needs more time to study variables in wild rice production. MPR News reports that puts off the decision about whether and how Minnesota water quality standards should change.

Three years ago, the Legislature ordered a study on how sulfate affects wild rice. Sulfate is a type of mineral salt discharged by mines and other industry that can harm rice stands.

The Duluth News Tribune reports that the $1.5 million field and laboratory study shows sulfate above 4-16 parts per million can produce a chain reaction in the ecosystem that hurts the grain. The PCA stopped short of deciding whether the current statewide standard of 10 parts per million for sulfate pollution should continue, go up or go down. PCA commissioner John Linc Stine said the agency doesn’t have enough data to make that decision. The 22-page report said site-specific limits on sulfate may be needed.

The PCA’s analysis is based on the results of two years of field and laboratory work using data collected by scientists at the University of Minnesota and UMD. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources compiled a list of 1,286 potential wild rice waters — lakes, rivers and ponds — with wild rice confirmed in 777 of them.

The analysis now goes to a scientific technical review panel. It may be late 2015 or early 2016 when the PCA issues a more definite finding on what changes to make, if any, to the state’s limit for sulfate release into wild rice waters. It could be 2017 before any new state regulation is adopted.

Even after the PCA decides the sulfate issue, the federal Environmental Protection Agency will have to sign off on any change under the federal Clean Water Act.

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