Wild rice in northeastern Minnesota (Photo courtesy of Flickr/clairity)

Wild rice in northeastern Minnesota (Photo courtesy of Flickr/clairity)

Minnesota Wild Rice at Risk if Copper-Nickel Mining Industry Wins Out

Businesses and lawmakers are pushing to loosen Minnesota’s water quality regulations to allow copper and nickel mining in the northeastern region of the state, reported the Associated Press.

A half-dozen companies seek to extract the minerals, which contain more sulfide than most iron ore. The only roadblock is the current standard for sulfate in wild rice waters. The mines would likely release elevated levels of sulfate, “a form of sulfur that comes off the rock when it’s dug up and exposed to air,” reported KSTP.com.

But the Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa are protesting the potential mines, fearing pollution could eradicate its sacred wild rice beds, stated the AP. According to Ojibwe elders, wild rice is far less rich and plentiful than it used to be, reported KSTP.com.

Nancy Schuldt, water projects coordinator for the tribe, challenged arguments that there is no scientific evidence that high sulfate concentrations are detrimental to wild rice.

In a March 11 editorial for Headwaters News, she pointed to the “hundreds of acres of vanished or diminished resources in proximity to mine pits and tailings basins across the Mesabi Range,” the iron ore formation in northeast Minnesota. “Whether from high sulfate alone or in conjunction with other mine pollutants, or from being flooded out by millions of gallons of mine wastewater released daily, it seems pretty clear that decades of mining in Northeastern Minnesota have not been protective of wild rice.”

In an e-mail, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) spokesman Ralph Pribble told KTSP.com that the agency is looking to clarify its definition of water used for production of wild rice. In the future, the agency may update the limit of sulfate levels.

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