In my view, the Dec. 1 story, "PCA issues Minntac discharge permit," contained attempts by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to divert attention from more important issues regarding past and future discharges from U.S. Steel's tailings basin to less important ones. Even concerns about high sulfate levels and wild rice expressed by the attorney for the environmental group Water Legacy appeared to be misdirected. Seemingly, the PCA spokesperson successfully dragged the scent of a red herring away from what I feel are more important issues when she said the "PCA was glad to be bringing the half-century-old facility up to modern environmental standards."
Since I was 15 years old, I've fished the Dark River north of Chisholm for brown trout and brook trout in an area known as the "USGS gauging station." It's there where cold water seeping from the former glacial Lake Agassiz landform creates unique refugia that brook trout need to survive. In 1972, when the Minntac tailings basin severed 20 percent of the watershed, the refugia's effect modestly expanded; however, when the PCA gives Minntac its new discharge permit and when Minntac eventually shuts down, the area of cold water significantly will shrink and could put the trout at risk forever.
Mineland Reclamation Rules (Chapter 6130.2200) - unchanged since 1969 and evidently not considered a "modern environmental standard" by the PCA - will require Minntac to reconfigure to the original watershed and discharge warm runoff into the Dark River. Ever since the Dark River Restoration Project (dropped in 2010 after the PCA was a partner), I'm very suspicious of red herrings such as landownership changes or activities on my favorite trout stream miles downstream from the PCA's permit area for Minntac.
David G. Holmbeck
The writer retired from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in 2008.