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Ski Hill to continue taking water from Poplar River during drought

Polar River valley
Polar River valley

The DNR said on Wednesday that it's taking steps to let Lutsen Mountains keep drawing water for its snow-making operations despite a drought that has caused the river running through the north shore ski area to dwindle to a relative trickle.

A new state law that allows Lutsen Mountain Corp. to draw up to 150 million gallons from the Poplar River this fall normally would require it to quit pumping when the flow falls below 15 cubic feet per second for more than five straight days. The DNR said the river, a designated trout stream, has been near that threshold for weeks.

But the law lets the DNR issue a special permit for "just cause." Given that the resort is an anchor of the local economy, the DNR is citing the potential economic impacts and is taking public comments through Nov. 4.

In a statement issued yesterday, Lutsen Mountains Co-President Charles Skinner thanked the DNR for its use of the “just cause” provision. He said, “by issuing this additional permit, the ski area will be able to continue to make snow on the same basis it has in past years.”

But DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr also said the Poplar River is not a long-term sustainable source for the ski area. He said Lutsen and legislators need to commit themselves to finding an alternative, probably Lake Superior.

Skinner said the corporation, for various environmental reasons, has come to the conclusion they need to find a water source other than the Poplar River. “We are therefore aggressively working on engineering and a financing plan to secure public funding for a pipeline from Lake Superior as our primary source,” he said.

Lutsen estimates it would cost more than $3 million to install a pipeline to Lake Superior that would meet its needs.