Set among Lake Superior’s unique mountain-like topography, the high profile Poplar River watershed is a vital natural area, trout fishery and economic engine for the North Shore. For over a decade, the Poplar River Management Board (PRMB) has been working in partnership with the Cook County Soil and Water Conservation District and others toward the goal of improving the three-mile impaired reach of the river.
The lower watershed is a premier Midwest ski resort area with ski runs, hiking trails, and boating and fishing access for recreation. Citizen interest in the river health is high with primary concerns about the native trout fishery and water quality. The Poplar River is a DNR Trout Stream that supports a spring-run of rainbow trout and a fall run of pink Chinook, Coho salmon, and coaster brook trout. In addition, the University of Minnesota has listed the Poplar River watershed as a sentinel watershed.
The Poplar River Management Board was organized in 2005 in response to the lower watershed being listed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) as an impaired river in 2004. The lower watershed is defined as the section from the falls north of Lutsen Mountains, to where it empties into Lake Superior.
The Board consists of landowners along the lower Poplar River with the specific goal identifying and implementing conservation projects and practices that will meet the MPCA’s water quality standards and be removed from the impaired waters list.
To accomplish this goal, the PRMB worked specifically to: (a) develop broad partnerships with other stakeholders (MPCA, SWCD, MDNR and other stakeholders); (b) work with partners to develop good science about the River; (c) identify priority problems and raise funds to implement solutions; (d) be proactive and implement projects in parallel with the TMDL, not after its completion and (e) serve as a vehicle for communication among partners and stakeholders regarding the TMDL.
Since 2005, over $2.7 million in public and private funds have been invested in scientific research, engineering studies and projects aimed at reducing sediment flowing into the river. With an approved TMDL water quality standard and implementation plan, the PRMB has made exceptional progress toward the final goal. Numerous traditional and innovative approaches have been applied to stabilize the river, its banks, and the adjacent hillsides which consist of highly-erodible soils. Over time we have achieved a significant improvement in water quality. For example, it was estimated that between 2000 and 2010 (and likely more today), a 300-ton/year reduction in sediment was achieved. Today, concentrations of total suspended solids are meeting state standards 92% of the time.
The MPCA announced in October 2017 that the Poplar River is now meeting state water quality standards and will be removed from the impaired waters list. A wonderful achievement, with lots of dedicated partners! The Poplar River Management Board\'s work, however, is not done, as it will continue to monitor the River and annually inspect installed practices and make sure that any needed repairs are carried out. We are determined to maintain our success, and maintain the high level of water quality of this beautiful stream.