When the Poplar River made its way onto the state’s impaired waters list in 2004, local residents became greatly concerned.
Long popular with the state’s anglers, the river flows out of the Sawtooth Mountains, through the Lutsen Ski area and dumps into Lake Superior near the resort’s main lodge on the lake. Each spring salmon gather at its mouth to spawn, and each fall, trout move further upstream to do the same. In 1989, a 33-pound Chinook salmon was pulled from its waters, setting a state record that stands to this day.
With its inclusion on the impaired waters list, a whole battery of tests were conducted to determine the source of the rapid change in water quality. Initial results found that nearly two-thirds of the sediment in the water was there as the result of natural causes, but since it was on the list, a plan was needed to bring the river back into compliance.
In 2006, the river’s sediment load peaked at 1,000 tons per year. Since that time, management and conservation practices have made significant progress in decreasing the amount of sediment found in the river. In a report just released earlier this month by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, river sediment has been reduced by nearly 35 percent from those peak readings. And with active sediment sequestration plans in place for future developments, it is believed that the number may continue heading even further in the right direction.
In 2013, efforts included in three Lutsen developments, Caribou Highlands Flow Path, Lower Eagle Mountain Road project and the Mystery Mountain Flow Path, are expected to reduce sediment by an additional 185 tons a year. All told, the Poplar River Management Board, in conjunction with the Cook County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Lutsen and other stakeholders have implemented $1.7 million in sediment reduction projects within the Poplar River watershed.
The work on this river is being done quietly, and there is more to do. But the partners in the cleanup deserve recognition for progress to date, and for their continued commitment to this important natural resource.