Because of its cold lakes and rivers, Minnesota is one of the few places in the United States where wild rice grows. This highly nutritious grain is a state icon along with the loon and the lady slipper flower. It was a staple in the diet of Native American tribes in North America. Wild rice is also difficult to grow, and changes with the weather as too much water can easily destroy a crop.
That’s why Representative Kate Knuth (DFL-Fridley) is concerned about an attempt to weaken pollution standards for the water where wild rice grows. Representative Denny McNamara (R-Hastings) has proposed a bill that would change the standard for sulfate levels in water from 10 milligrams per liter maximum to 250 milligrams, which is the same for drinking water.
“Putting a standard that isn’t science-based and could really hurt an icon of a really important part of our state — that leaves me very concerned.” said Knuth.
McNamara’s bill would authorize a $1 million, two-year study of how wild rice may be affected by sulfate levels in air, water and soil. But the weaker pollution standard would be enacted while the study took place.
“I don’t think those who propose this understand the significance of wild rice to the Native American culture”, said Rep. John Persell (DFL-Bemidji).
He said wild rice probably would not survive such levels, which would be equivalent to “stomping on a Bible” to the 60,000 Native Americans who consider it a sacred gift. No action was taken on the House bill, which has no Senate companion.