Thursday, May 24, 2012

Court Upholds State Water Quality Standard For Sulfate

A Ramsey County, Minnesota Judge has dismissed claims regarding the Minnesota State Water Quality Standard for sulfate, which alleged the state's sulfate standard, enacted based on 1940s research, was unfounded, based on poor science and overly restrictive, especially for the state's mining industry. The Minnesota state water quality standard was developed in 1973, primarily to protect areas where wild rice would grow. Data available to the State suggested wild rice was particularly sensitive to sulfate. The state set a standard of 10 milligrams per liter in order to protect naturally occurring stands of wild rice in northern lakes and streams permitted discharges. The Court ruled that the Wild Rice Rule does not violate due process and the law is not constitutionally vague.

In February 2010, the EPA commented the MPCA environmental review of a proposed $600 million copper-nickel mine, citing its view that the state disregarded for its own sulfate standard. A second environmental review of the project is now underway that will include its potential impact on wild rice.

The Minnesota Legislature considered legislation in 2011 that would loosen the sulfate standard in advance of a planned scientific review. However, EPA sent the Legislature a sharp rebuke, reinforcing that the state had to follow the federal Clean Water Act, which requires scientifically valid standards. In lieu of setting a new standard by legislative action, the Legislature passed a law requiring that the MPCA form an advisory group to oversee a scientific study of sulfates and wild rice, which is now underway.

Caltha LLP provides expert consulting services to public and private sector clients in Minnesota and nationwide to address water quality standards, wastewater permitting and assessing potential impacts of chemicals in the aquatic environment.
Caltha LLP Aquatic Toxicology / WQ Standards Services Website