Silica Sand Mining

EQB’s draft of silica sand mining standards remain far too weak – trout need your help now

Environmental Quality Board and other agency staff released draft model standards and criteria for silica sand mining in southern MN in mid-December 2013.  These standards should be models of adequate protections which local governments can incorporate into zoning ordinances.  While portions of the draft offer good guidance to local governments, in the areas of water quality and water quantity this draft falls flat.  It fails to recommend even the three basic protections which the DNR publicly championed during the 2013 legislative session.   It even fails to offer the model setbacks which the agencies were directed to develop.  Whether this was due to misplaced confidence in two DNR permitting programs, or a lack of confidence in local governments’ ability to properly amend zoning ordinances, is not clear.  What is clear is that staff have backpedaled the administration away from reasonable protections.

Anglers need to demand that this backpedaling be reversed.  Please take a few minutes to send a short e mail to both the EQB and the DNR.  This is our last chance to have minimal protections for trout fisheries and groundwater included as the model standards.  Comments are due Monday January 27, 2014.

Major omissions.

The draft fails to include the basic protections which the DNR testified are necessary for protecting southeast trout fisheries:

  • No mining should occur within one mile of any trout stream, spring or perennial tributary of a trout stream
  • No mining should occur within 25 feet of the water table, in order to protect groundwater flow patterns
  • Groundwater should be preserved by limiting its use for mining and processing operations to no more than one million gallons per year

The draft fails to recommend a model setback from sinkholes, which are the recharge areas for groundwater and springs.

The draft lacks protective setbacks from the Aquatic Management Area easements on trout streams which were purchased with many millions of dollars of your fishing license and trout stamp fees. 

How to comment.

You can comment simply by sending an e mail to the Minnesota’s Environmental Quality Board at this address: silicasand.eqb@state.mn.us

To ensure that top DNR managers hear your concerns, you can also e mail DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr at: tom.landwehr@state.mn.us

If you wish to share your concerns with Governor Mark Dayton you can following this link to see options for contacting him:

https://mn.gov/governor/contact-us/

Comments are due Monday January 27, 2014.

One example of core message:

The following restrictions which were supported by the DNR during the 2013 legislative session should be offered as model standards for local governments to adopt:

  • No mining may occur within one mile of any trout stream, spring or perennial tributary of a trout stream
  • No mining may occur within 25 feet of the water table
  • Groundwater use for mining and processing operations should be limited to no more than one million gallons per year

There must also be a model setback from sinkholes, in order to project groundwater recharge.

Anglers’ multimillion dollar investment in trout stream easements must be protected with a one mile setback from all Aquatic Management Areas in southeast Minnesota.

Additional points you may wish to make are found in the Further Information section below.

Background and links.

During the 2013 legislative session Minnesota Trout Unlimited worked hard to secure the successful passage of a bill threats posed by silica sand mining.  One provision of that law required the EQB to develop “model standards and criteria” for mining, processing, and transporting silica sand in southern Minnesota.  In September 2013 EQB staff offered an inventory of existing rules in other areas as a first draft of model standards and criteria.  These were retracted following a public outcry, and public comments were invited by November 12, 2013.  Minnesota TU sent an alert to members and submitted written comments to the EQB outlining our major concerns. 

To view MNTU’s earlier comments click Comments of MNTU – Nov 2013
.

On December 13, 2013 the EQB released its first real draft of model standards and criteria.  The December 13 draft can be found on the EQB website at this link:   

http://www.eqb.state.mn.us/documents/Tools%20for%20Local%20Govt%20draft%20DECEMBER%2013_2013.pdf

MNTU testified at an EQB hearing on December 18, 2013 and highlighted the fact that none of its suggestions were incorporated into the December draft.  The glaring omissions discussed above were pointed out, as was the complete absence of any model setbacks which local government could independently adopt for trout streams, springs, tributaries, groundwater and groundwater recharge areas. 

 Frequently asked question: 

 Won’t the new DNR trout stream setback permit protect all our trout waters in southeast MN?

 No.  The law and permit cover only designated trout streams.  They do not cover all the springs and perennial tributaries which supply cold groundwater (the lifeblood of trout fisheries) to these streams, nor the dozen or so trout streams which the DNR has failed to designate.  Also, a permit is not the same as the flat out ban on mining within one mile which the DNR has strongly supported. 

 The draft on page 131 misstates the scope of the law and permit.  While the DNR did support a complete ban on all mining within one mile of all designated trout streams, all tributaries of designated trout streams, all Class 2A waters (coldwater streams which the DNR has failed to designate), and all groundwater springs and seeps, the permit covers only designated trout streams and none of these other vital parts of coldwater systems.  Furthermore, the permit is not a ban, and mining may be permitted even in near designated trout streams. 

Could local governments adopt the one mile setbacks championed by the DNR last April and May?

 Yes.  However, the draft guidance document actually steers them any from doing so.  The draft instead recommends only that local governments provide comments to the DNR on those permit applications covering designated trout streams only. 

 The setbacks which the DNR supported, and which should be presented as model setbacks for local governments to adopt, include prohibiting (not merely attempting to lessen adverse impacts via a permit) mining of silica sand within one mile of:

  • All designated trout streams
  • All undesignated trout streams (whether or not currently classified as 2A waters)
  • All springs (not only those in calcareous fens)
  • All perennial tributaries of trout streams

 Does the draft include the 25 foot setback from (above) the water table which the DNR and MNTU support?

 No.  Amazingly, there is no recommended even to restrict silica sand mining from occurring below the water table (in the aquifer).  Local governments could adopt this commonsense restriction to prevent the needless waste of groundwater, but the draft fails even to suggest this.  Instead agency staff place unjustified confidence in the DNR water appropriation permitting system.  No application for an appropriation of groundwater in southeast MN has ever been denied.  One can reasonably interpret the DNR’s support last session of a prohibition on issuing water appropriation permits (required above one million gallons annually) as a tacit admission that the permitting processes does not guarantee adequate protection of our groundwater.

 Further Information:

 Points suggested for November comments are still appropriate.

 The agencies apparently dismissed all of TU’s concerns expressed in the previous round of public comments.  Points you may wish to make more forcefully include:

  • The DNR and EQB should propose setback standards and criteria for SE MN which are at least as restrictive as those which the DNR championed this past legislative session.  These are detailed in the next three bullets:
  • In SE MN, silica sand mines may not be located within one mile of any spring, trout stream, or perennial tributary of a trout stream. 

[Please note that the scope of this setback should be as broad as was originally proposed, and include:

    • all springs, not just calcareous fens
    • all trout streams, including
      • Designated Trout Streams
      • Class 2A waters
      • Other de facto trout streams which have not been designated or classified yet for any number of reasons (including regulatory gaps, delays, political or social pressure, etc.)
    • the entire length of perennial tributaries, from the springs or groundwater sources which give them their perennial flow, to the trout streams which they sustain
  • In SE MN, mining of silica sand may not be conducted within 25 feet of the water table (including to prevent the alteration of subsurface flow patterns, changes in the quality of groundwater, or the use or removal of groundwater through construction dewatering).
  • SE MN Groundwater use criteria:  No more than 1 million gallons per year of groundwater may be pumped by any silica sand mining operation or silica sand processing facility (whether by construction dewatering or for washing, sorting or processing sand).
  • The list of features for which setbacks or buffers must be proposed is not meant to be exhaustive or exclusive, and the EQB can and should go beyond this list to recommend protective setbacks or buffers for other sensitive natural resource features.  Sink holes, all springs (not just fens) and ground water tables (vertical setbacks) are some additional features needing protective buffers.
  • In SE MN, silica sand mines should not be located within 1,000 feet of any sinkhole.
  • In SE MN, silica sand mines should not be located within one mile of any spring.
  • SE MN Groundwater quality protection criteria:  The quality of groundwater should be protected by a “no impact” criteria.  The model criteria to be used for developing restrictions and standards should be that no reduction in the quality of any groundwater on the site be permitted, whether the groundwater is used, recycled, appropriated or discharged as surface water.
  • EBQ should make clear that these are model minimums, not maximums, and advise local units of government (“LGUs”) that they can go beyond them as they consider community values.
  • EQB should not propose any setback, standard or criteria as a model which is less restrictive than any existing local ordinance (so as not to undercut a local ordinance or raise fears of legal challenges by project proposers).
  • Silica sand mines should not be located within one mile of any Aquatic Management Area easement, including any trout stream easement.
  • Silica sand mining operations and silica sand processing facilities should not be permitted on State Forest land.
  • Protecting the state’s investment in protecting, restoring and enhancing coldwater resources and fisheries in southeast Minnesota should be the paramount consideration in recommending model standards and criteria. 

Three basic protections championed by DNR and MNTU:

Last spring the DNR testified in strong support of placing three basic protections for trout fisheries and the groundwater systems into state law.  Minnesota Trout Unlimited continues to advocate for these minimum setbacks and restrictions for silica sand mining and processing activities in the Driftless region of the state (aka the Paleozoic Plateau Ecological Section):

  • Silica sand mines may not be located within one mile of any spring, trout stream, Class 2A water, or any perennially flowing tributary of a trout stream or Class 2A water (so that subsurface flows to springs and trout streams are not disrupted); 
  • Mining of silica sand may not be conducted within 25 feet of the water table (to prevent disruption, pollution or removal of groundwater through construction dewatering); and
  • Groundwater use is limited to no more than 1 million gallons per year for each silica sand mining operation or processing facility, whether taken by construction dewatering or for washing, sorting or processing industrial silica sand (thereby preserving groundwater and steering new businesses to use other readily available alternatives).

 

 

Comments of MNTU – Nov 2013

Summary of silica sand mining provisions passed in 2013

Silica sand position of MNTU – April 2012

Joint comments of MNTU and MCEA – EAWs.02-06-2013

EAW Comments Exhibit 1.02062013

EAW Comments Exhibit 2 .02062013

EQB Silica Sand Report – March 2013

Map for Silica Sand and SE Trout streams