DNR will allow Lutsen Mountain to continue drawing water from Poplar River for snowmaking this season
Lutsen Mountains Corp. (LMC) will be allowed to continue drawing water from the Poplar River for snowmaking under a permit to be issued by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Lutsen applied for a permit to continue to pump water despite the low water flow conditions in the river that would normally require pumping operations to be discontinued.
The DNR is authorized by statute to allow exceptions to permits under unique circumstances. The 2011 Minnesota Legislature authorized LMC to take up to 150 million gallons of water from the Poplar River for snowmaking this fall, but included a provision that suspends the appropriation if flows fall below 15 cubic feet per second (cfs) for more than five consecutive days. The flow has been at or near that threshold for weeks. A separate statute provision authorizes the DNR to issue a permit beyond what is normally allowed for "just cause."
The DNR believes there is just cause to issue LMC a permit based on potential serious economic impacts to the local community if Lutsen was forced to shut down, the likelihood that the severe drought conditions will cause some trout mortality whether or not LMC temporarily appropriates water, the fact that the number of trout impacted would be relatively small, and that the trout populations would likely naturally recover quickly.
The DNR received more than 600 public comments on the permit application. Many were in favor of allowing the permit. Others expressed concerns for impacts to the river and its trout population. All comments were considered in making the decision to issue a permit according to DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. He stressed that allowing the permit is a short-term solution because of its limited duration and because it requires Lutsen to commit to cease all pumping from Poplar River by the fall of 2016.
"The Poplar River is not a long-term sustainable source of water for LMC," Landwehr said. "We will work with LMC and key legislators to find an alternate source of water for snowmaking even sooner - probably Lake Superior - within three years."
According to the DNR, the average flow for the Poplar River in November is 86 cfs. It has been hovering around 15 cfs for some time, and will likely drop significantly during winter, when limited water drains into the river. North Shore streams rely primarily on surface water drainage rather than groundwater, and precipitation has been significantly below average in the area.