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Big Stone II permits raise issues

BIG STONE -- Water appropriation permits for the Big Stone II power plant have put the managers of the dam at the south end of Big Stone Lake in a predicament they did not anticipate.

The permits for Big Stone II are based on 1939 legislation that requires the lake to be managed at an elevation of 967 feet during the months of May through October. That is one foot lower than is currently the practice. Yet the water appropriation permits for the power plant greatly restrict the amount of water that can be drawn from the lake whenever the lake level is at elevation 967 feet or less.

Diane Radermacher, executive director of the Upper Minnesota Watershed District, said she is seeking advice from attorneys on whether the Big Stone Lake-Whetstone River flood control structure should begin managing the lake for a 967-foot level in the warm weather months. She said the current operation plan calls for a 968-foot level, but noted that the plan is not authorized. It has been the practice for many years to keep the lake at the higher level, she said.

Radermacher believes the lower level will not be popular with landowners along the lake, or with those launching boats. She also believes the 967-foot elevation will ultimately be a concern to the power plant operators, since it places more restrictions on their ability to draw water from the lake.

Shannon Fisher, director of the Minnesota River Board, said he is concerned that the restriction could lead the power plant operators to seek a variance asking to raise the lake. That is one of the issues he'd like to see the Minnesota-South Dakota Boundary Waters Commissioners discuss.