Water is Who We Are — Protect Us


By Kevin Dupuis and Kathryn Hoffman

Minnesota: Land of 10,000 Lakes. Minnesota: the home of wild rice soup and wild rice hot dish. Minnesotans take so much pride in these monikers. We want our children and grandchildren to know these gifts from nature that make us all Minnesotans.

But at the Minnesota Capitol, legislators are considering whether to sell our very identity to the highest bidder. Legislation (HF3280/SF2983) will likely be voted on this week that would gut protections for wild rice, our official state grain. This legislation would end a 40-year-old water pollution standard to protect wild rice, and prevent the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) from using new, peer-reviewed science to set any new protective standard. 
If this bill passes, Minnesotans would lose. We stand on the brink of disregarding science-based standards to protect our water and wild rice for the sake of short-term industry cost savings. 

We originally anticipated strong opposition to this legislation by Republicans and DFLers alike. We anticipated the outcry to be broad-based and early. But occasionally, terrible policies sneak past the public when industrial interests cloak their intent. This legislation is one of those terrible policies, disguised under a pro-wild rice, pro-water rain slicker.

We’ve watched legislators declare the science to be “in dispute,” while ignoring testimony of a scientist who conducted several studies on wild rice mandated by the Minnesota Legislature. We watched a committee chair advance this bill by voice vote, and only then allow a testifier opposed to the bill to speak for two minutes. As American Indian tribes and friends of the environment, we have watched in dismay as this legislation has steam-rolled through committees without adequate discussion.

Minnesota’s wild rice sulfate standard has existed since the 1970s. In 2011, the Minnesota Legislature required the MPCA to commission new, peer-reviewed science and use it to develop a new standard. The MPCA commissioned new research from Minnesota scientists. These recently completed, peer-reviewed studies support decades-old research that showed sulfates harm wild rice. For the first time, they documented the exact mechanism by which sulfates kill wild rice. These studies also showed a connection between sulfates and higher levels of toxic mercury in fish, which harm the people who eat them. 

The MPCA’s new proposed standard was struck down by an Administrative Law Judge last fall. She found that MPCA’s proposed rule conflicted with existing law because it would allow sulfate levels that were too high to protect wild rice. Legislators seeking to undermine these protections seized on this ruling to claim it shows the science is “unsettled.” If anything, it shows the exact opposite. The science is in, and it shows that sulfate harms wild rice. Rather than follow the science and the ruling of the Administrative Law Judge, the bill being considered dismantles the MPCA’s ability to protect wild rice, jeopardizing the future existence of natural wild rice in Minnesota waters.

Wild rice waters in Minnesota cannot go unprotected indefinitely. Sulfate regulations cannot be delayed or weakened. Tribes and environmental advocates might be the most vocal protectors of wild rice, but we know that the great unifier of Minnesotans is our water. Water is who we are.

It is not too late. Minnesotans – lovers of wild rice, lakes, and all things water – we must unite to protect our very identity. Governor Dayton and legislative leaders, we call on you to listen – to your constituents and your good instincts. Don’t relegate water quality standards to the shoreline. Protect our waters and wild rice for future generations. Defeat the un-Minnesotan SF2983/HF3280. 

This article by Minnesota Chippewa Tribe President Kevin Dupuis and Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy CEO Kathryn Hoffman was published in the April 19 Star Tribune. Other supporting organizations who have signed onto the piece include Minnesota Environmental Partnership, Sierra Club North Star Chapter, Save Our Sky Blue Waters, Duluth for Clean Water, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, WaterLegacy, North American Water Office, Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division, and MN350.