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Would you Please Sprinkle a Little Sulfate on my Wild Rice Hot Dish Tommy?

By Mike Hillman
A friend of mine told me a few weeks ago that State Representative Tom Rukavina wanted to increase by five times the legal limit we allow for sulfates in our discharge water. “Why would he want to do that,” I asked. “The current standards are too high for the mining companies to meet and they know it”, was my friend’s answer, “They talked to Tommy about their problem meeting the ten milligram standard, that’s why Tom is asking to lower the current requirements.” “So much for meeting the highest environmental standards in the world,” I said in response. It leads to the logical question about the fairness of our environmental standards.

This week the topic of sulfate limits and wild rice was in the local papers, and there was Representative Rukavina asking to have the limits on sulfates raised, because he feels the standards to protect wild rice from mining waste water is too high. Now I know when you serve in the state legislature you have to be familiar with a lot of things, but I was surprised when Representative Rukavina seemed to know something about sulfates and wild rice that the rest of us didn’t know.

Now I’ve heard about people talking about wild rice before, but it’s usually a few weeks before the late summer wild rice harvest, and the talk is about how this year’s crop of wild rice is going to be, not about how much sulfate the plant can tolerate before it stops producing rice. According to some scientists the current level of ten mg per liter is out of line and according to them a level of as high as two hundred and fifty wouldn’t kill wild rice, but Representatives Tom Rukavina from Pike, and David Dill of Orr, said they will settle for fifty as a reasonable compromise. Reasonable by whose standards I wondered.

According to Tom Rukavina it’s not just about proposed sulfide mining in Northeastern Minnesota that’s being hampered by the unreasonable sulfate limits, because many of the man made mine lakes, all across the Mesabi Range, have sulfate levels much higher than the ten mg per liter limit the state now sets as the acceptable standard for sulfates. Rukavina said that many municipal water systems across Minnesota can’t match the standards and people seem to be turning a blind eye to those violations. Rukavina thinks the mining people are being singled out and he feels that’s unfair. So instead of keeping the best water quality standards in the world, Rukavina and Dill want us to lower those standards all across the state. Thank heaven for people who are saying that before we lower the current standards that may be wrong, we should make sure they’re not really right.

I like Tom Rukavina, but I don’t agree with him about changing the rules about sulfates in our water until the state finishes a two year study that will better tell us the truth about sulfates and wild rice in Northeastern Minnesota. Tom Rukavina is from the south side of the continental divide. Where he stands the water runs east and south, and where I stand the water runs north. The water in the St. Louis River is so polluted from mercury from mining waste that the EPCA doesn’t have a plan to deal with cleaning up the mess, and that is a sad thing. Right now the water in the Rainy River Water Shed; the water flowing north to Hudson Bay is in better shape. I want to keep it that way. It would be nice to have high paying jobs, but not if it is going to put poison into our water.

The truth is the mining companies can’t meet the current standards that we have set in order to protect Northeastern Minnesota from pollution and degradation, and they know it. I hope we take the two years to study the issue, and find out for sure just what a fair and safe measure for sulfates going into either of our major water sheds. The rock here has been waiting two thousand eight hundred million years, so two more years maintaining current standards doesn’t seem a lot to ask.

2 comments to Would you Please Sprinkle a Little Sulfate on my Wild Rice Hot Dish Tommy?

  • Bob

    Political hit piece. I’m all for keeping the waters clean, However my 5 neighbors who are out of work would be grateful for the opportunity to work at a new stable job in the North land.

  • I understand that people want those mining jobs, but mining in this region seems to create economic cycles of boom and bust. The tourist industry is stable, and it will be destroyed if we pollute our waters. Instead of giving away the store to mining companies, why not invite them to mine here, but only if they can live up to standards that state voters have already decided on? This is a matter of a possible short-term gain and a probable long-term loss.

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