A bill that's cleared a Minnesota Senate committee would allow water to be pumped from the Poplar River to make snow at Lutsen Mountains ski resort.
The measure would allow 2 million gallons of water per day to be pumped from the river, regardless of water level. It would overrule any Department of Natural Resources regulations regarding use of the river water.
The Duluth News Tribune reports anglers and conservation groups oppose the bill, saying it would decimate fish and other wildlife populations by causing portions of the river to freeze in the winter.
But Charles Skinner, co-owner of Lutsen Mountains Corp., argues that pumping water doesn't affect fish, and only adds up to 5 percent of the water in the river at that time of year. He said the portion of the river near the resort doesn't attract a lot of fish.
The DNR and other groups are suggesting the resort use water from Lake Superior to make snow, but the company says that would be too expensive. Skinner said it can't afford to spend "millions of dollars" to build a system that would pump water uphill from the lake.
Without the river water, "the ski hill can't survive," Skinner said. "No Midwest ski resort can survive without snowmaking water."
Steve Persons, DNR area fisheries supervisor, said if the pumping was permitted, the increased ice that would form would hurt populations of brook trout, rainbow trout, salmon and "coaster" brook trout that migrate into the river from Lake Superior.
He said he isn't sure what impact Lutsen's water pumping has had in the past.
"We don't have this situation with any other trout stream because it's something we don't allow," Persons said.
Lutsen is the only commercial entity that's allowed to pump water from a trout stream in winter. In 1986, the DNR gave Lutsen a permit to use up to 13 million gallons per winter, assuming there was enough flow to sustain the fish populations. This is an exception to a 1977 rule that bans surface water withdrawals from trout streams.
Lutsen has been violating its permit since 2001, pumping between 60 and 107 million gallons each season. Although the DNR has known of the violations since 2002, it hasn't taken action against the company.
A Senate measure that includes the provision is now going to the full Senate. A similar bill in the House has not been considered yet.
Information from: The Duluth News Tribune
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