The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will allow Lutsen Mountain ski area to pump water from the drought-parched Poplar River, a designated trout stream on Lake Superior’s North Shore.
Lutsen Mountain was allowed to continue pumping from the river because disallowing the use of the river could have caused the ski area to close, the DNR concluded. The resort uses the water for its snowmaking operations. Normally, pumping operations would be discontinued due to the river’s low flow, but the DNR is authorized by statute to allow exceptions under unique circumstances.
Lutsen Mountains has used Polar River water to whiten its slopes since the mid-1960s, and has a history of drawing more water than originally permitted to do. The ski resort obtained a permit in 1964 to draw up to 12.5 million gallons of water a year from the river. DNR documents show that water use reached 60 million gallons in 2001 and topped 100 million gallons in 2010. Lutsen Mountains officials say the water use was vital for meeting the demands of its skiers, and added they don’t believe it impacts fish in the river.
DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr stressed that the decision to allow pumping was a short-term solution.
“The Poplar River is not a long-term sustainable source of water for [Lutsen Mountain],” he said. “We will work with [Lutsen Moutain] and key legislators to find an alternate source of water for snowmaking even sooner – probably Lake Superior – within three years.”
Environmental advocates decried the decision, saying it set a bad precedent for issues where private business interests and public natural resources are in conflict. The DNR received more than 600 public comments on the permit application, which numbered 396 to 220 in favor of Lutsen Moutain’s request to continue pumping.