St. Paul – In a decision DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said the
agency “doesn’t take lightly,” Lutsen Mountain Corp. has been
granted a permit to continue drawing water from a designated trout
stream, despite low-flow conditions.
Without the special permit, LMC would have to discontinue pumping
water to make snow for the ski area, which both it and the DNR have
said could have negative economic impacts on the local
Landwehr said the DNR was “between a rock and a hard place” in
deciding whether to grant the permit, which affects about 2.5 miles
of the Poplar River.
Conservation groups voiced opposition to the decision. “… the DNR
should not be in the business of granting special exemptions for
private corporations to improve their bottom line,” John
Lenczewski, executive director of Minnesota Trout Unlimited,
The ski resort has pumped water from the Poplar River since the
1960s, but during the past decade has pumped more water than a
DNR permit authorized.
Landwehr said that to his knowledge, LMC never has been fined for
exceeding its permit.
During the past legislative session, the Legislature gave the LMC
permission to take up to 150 million gallons of water from the
Poplar River each year for five years. But the legislation also
included a stipulation that pumping would cease when water flows
fell below 15 cubic feet per second for more than five consecutive
The flow in the river was as low as 7 cubic feet per second in
September and was less than 15 cubic feet per second on Oct.
State statute allows the DNR, it says, to issue a special permit
for “just cause.”
The permit, issued after a comment period that lasted less than two
weeks – many of the 600 comments the DNR received were in favor of
the agency granting the permit – requires a commitment from LMC
that it will stop pumping water from the Poplar River by the fall
of 2016. The corporation must have an alternative solution – likely
pumping water from Lake Superior – fully or partially in place
within three years.
“We think this short-term stressor will allow a long-term
solution,” Landwehr said, adding that he believes “this is a
satisfactory outcome for both sides.”
Landwehr also said, “We expect this to be resolved in three years
… We do not want another 10 years of this situation.”
Charles Skinner, co-president of the LMC, said Lutsen has been
working on an alternative source of water, which may cost more than
“Clearly, there is much work remaining to resolve this issue to
everyone’s satisfaction,” Skinner said in a prepared statement. “We
are currently working aggressively on a financing plan including
public and private funding for a pipeline from Lake Superior as our
primary snowmaking source.
“The permit issued by the DNR is a short-term solution that is
absolutely critical for our economy, our business, and our
residents. Broad-based support for public funding of a pipeline
from Lake Superior is essential for a long-term solution.”
According to the DNR, the affected stretch of the Poplar River
includes about 100 to 200 resident brook trout, and small numbers
of juvenile steelhead and salmon.
In deciding there was just cause for issuing the permit, the agency
said the severe drought will cause trout mortality whether LMC
pumps water or not, and also noted the number of fish is small. The
DNR also said trout populations likely would recover fast.
Conservation groups said they didn’t agree with the legislation
approved earlier this year, and don’t agree with the DNR’s decision
to grant a special permit.
“This is a self-created problem that could have easily been avoided
with better planning,” Henry VanOffelen, a natural resource
scientist with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.