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SaveHiawatha18's Response to the MPRB's Answers to CAC Pumping Questions

January 15, 2020


The Hiawatha Golf Course Property Master Plan Community Advisory Committee (CAC) asked the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) to answer the following questions:

  • Why does the MPRB want to reduce pumping?
  • Why is pumping bad?
  • We believe that the MPRB response does not really answer these questions. Instead the MPRB talks about why the berm is bad and why the MPRB wants to store more water on the property. Plus, they give misinformation about the flooding of Hiawatha Golf Course in 2014.

    The MPRB's response is in red. SaveHiawatha18's response to the MPRB's response is in black.

    Hiawatha Golf Course Property Master Plan Update: Groundwater Pumping

    At its last meeting, the Hiawatha Golf Course Property Master Plan Community Advisory Committee (CAC) asked Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) staff and consultants to explain why and when groundwater pumping at the golf course is bad and why the MPRB wants to reduce pumping.

    Below is an explanation of how efforts to keep the golf course dry negatively affect the property's natural environment and its ability to recover from flooding and increased precipitation.

    First, a few facts about the Hiawatha Golf Course Property:

  • The property is situated adjacent to and below the normal elevation of Lake Hiawatha.
  • Two pieces of infrastructure keep the course dry: a large berm (raised bank) that separates Lake Hiawatha from the golf course, and six water pumps that remove water from wet areas and pump it into the lake.
  • Dewatering coincidentally creates a cone of depression that protects, to some degree, nearby homesí basements from groundwater intrusion.
  • The MPRB has a new permit from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to pump up to 308 million gallons of groundwater from the property annually, based on monitoring performed as part of a 2017 study.
  • However, with an increasingly wet climate, the amount actually pumped has increased, estimated at more than 400 million gallons per year.
  • This increase in pumping has little to do with the golf course property itself. It has to do with the increase in water coming down Minnehaha Creek into Lake Hiawatha and the increase in water entering the golf course property from the City of Minneapolis storm sewers.

    The high level of water coming down Minnehaha Creek keeps the water level in Lake Hiawatha at or near high normal (813-814 feet) throughout the summer, which increases the seepage from the lake to the golf course property, which then has to be pumped back out. This high level of water coming down Minnehaha Creek is also causing flooding of homes along Minnehaha Creek in South Minneapolis, upstream from Lake Hiawatha. And, water coming from Richfield through Lake Nokomis is causing high water levels in Lake Nokomis, and is likely contributing to the water problems in the Nokomis neighborhood.

    The City of Minneapolis is also dumping 66+ million gallons of stormwater onto the golf course at E. 44rd St. and 19th Ave. S. The Park Board has stated that the level of pumping at the berm has increased over the past 2 years. It is very likely that part of this increase is because the amount of stormwater that is being dumped on the golf course has also increased.

    Adding a little more storage to the Hiawatha Park property does little or nothing to alleviate all of this water that is coming into this property. I will reiterate the conclusions of a study that was done for Prior Lake which had a similar problem resulting from the 2014 flood. Their preferred solution included providing areas in the upper watershed to store and absorb water. This is the opposite of the MPRB's solution, which is to store more water in the lower watershed. The study also said that "the DNR has indicated that it will not allow [other] options to be installed until greater efforts have been made to secure storage in the upper watershed." Also, the study says that "Upper watershed storage provides better flood control for the larger flood events than any of the other individual options." They also indicate that it scores higher for pollution mitigation. Read more in the SaveHiawatha 18 White Paper, Section 4.3.1.

    So, the MPRB is trying to design a solution that is totally backwards from DNR policy and best practices being implemented by other communities.

    Efforts to maintain the property as an active recreation facility have the following negative effects on the natural environment and its ability to recover from large amounts of precipitation responsibly:

    So, you are saying that no recreational activities should occur on this property? If so, you misled people about all of the activities that you said could occur on the property once the golf course was gone?

    The berm separating the Lake Hiawatha from the Hiawatha Golf Course cuts off Minnehaha Creek and Lake Hiawatha's use of the full floodplain during smaller, more frequent weather events.

    Correct, it cannot and should not be used as storage because it prevents the higher water from coming near the homes. If the golf course was flooded, the water levels on the golf course would be 813-814 feet at a minimum which is higher than some of the basements adjacent to the park. Are you telling us that having groundwater water levels across the street from the homes that are higher than the basements of the homes will not put those homes in jeopardy of flooding?

    The berm that separates Lake Hiawatha from the golf course cuts off the natural floodplain area, which limits the floodplain's effectiveness during smaller, more frequent events along Minnehaha Creek. When rain falls over the watershed, the golf course area behind the berm cannot be utilized as floodplain storage.

    Without the berm, these flows could be temporarily stored in a larger contiguous surface area of Lake Hiawatha and the golf course area, resulting in less bounce or swelling during non-catastrophic storms and potentially reducing creek levels upstream and downstream.

    Reducing bounce on the creek and lake during these events could, for instance, allow the Lake Nokomis outlet to be open more frequently and sooner after rain events for relief of that lake. Floodplains are essential to the watershed; they are buffers that store extra water that falls over the watershed. Cutting off the floodplain is not responsible water management ó it pushes water onto other properties upstream and downstream of Lake Hiawatha.

    With the current levels of water coming through Lake Hiawatha, there is little or no bounce from spring to fall. The water levels in 2019 stayed close to the high normal of 814 feet throughout the water flow season. This is because there is more water needing to go through this small property than it can handle. And, adding a little more capacity will not solve this problem. Again, the solution is to stop trying to put such huge quantities of water through a system that struggles to handle it. Lake Hiawatha and its floodplain are too small to be relied on to handle the increasing water load for the whole watershed with impending climate change.

    Plus, you have to remember that houses and businesses are currently built on part of this floodplain. So, are you advocating that we should be taking out all of these buildings so that the floodplain can be returned to what it was? This would also include taking out the Park Building on the east side of Lake Hiawatha which is built on part of the original flood plain. And, this puts into question the new development of a 5 story building on the site of Bergan's grocery store; this property is also in the 100 year floodplain.

    Cutting off the floodplain is not the main cause of flooding upstream or downstream; the dumping of huge volumes of water into Minnehaha Creek and this little lake is the cause of flooding upstream or downstream which is evidenced by the destruction of the banks along Minnehaha Creek from the high volumes of water that are passing through it. Minnehaha Creek was never meant to handle the volumes of water currently running through it.

    The berm does not allow floodwater to recede after a catastrophic event. Instead floodwater must be pumped from the golf course.

    But, the berm also keeps the water away from the properties outside of the golf course during small and large rain events, which helps to keep the groundwater levels under the homes low and away from the basements.

    If it weren't for the fact that the level of Lake Hiawatha was at abnormally high levels from spring to summer, pumping would be less. And, if city storm water was not being dumped on the golf course at E. 44th St. and 19th Ave. S., pumping would be a lot less (over 66 million gallons less). Remember, the water being dumped at 44th and 19th was introduced to the golf course in 2012. Prior to that, the golf course didn't have to handle this water. The Park Board and City of Minneapolis made a conscious decision to dump more water on the golf course which then needs to be evacuated by pumping it over the berm. If this water were diverted from the golf course, the pumping would be immediately reduced by 66 million gallons or more!

    When the property catastrophically floods and the lake and creek overtop the berm, as it did in June 2014, floodwater becomes trapped behind the berm and can't drain naturally. Instead, it must be pumped out, and that can only occur after the creek and lake draw down below the top of the berm.

    Yes, a catastrophic flood has occured 3 times in the last 50 years, hardly a common occurance. This is also true for another MPRB Golf Course, Meadowbrook. And, you conveniently forget the benefits that Hiawatha golf course provides to the community EVERY YEAR, especially to the children and the elderly who use the golf course for summer and winter activities.

    In 2014, it took two weeks for floodwater to start to recede and more time to pump the water out. The courseís front nine holes reopened that fall and the full course reopened the following spring. Floodwater sitting on the course for a long period of time caused turf grass loss, tree loss, damage to irrigation components, and most importantly, a loss in revenue. In 2014, Hiawatha Golf Course lost more than $600,000 in net income in part due to flood damage and the loss of playable days. These are real costs that make the golf course unsustainable as a business operation within the MPRBís Enterprise Fund.

    UNTRUE! First, the MPRB states that the water didn't start to recede for 2 weeks (14 days). The golf course closed on June 19, 2014 and the driving range reopened on July 2nd, 2014, 13 days later. This means that the water was gone from the driving range in LESS THAN 2 weeks, contrary to the MPRB's statement. The MPRB says that the front nine reopened in the fall of 2014. The front 9 actually reopened on July 25th, 2019, 36 days after the flood. To most people, fall begins in September, not July. So, this is another inaccurate statement made by the MPRB. Regarding the reopening of the back 9, the MPRB says it was reopened "the following spring". That would mean in 2015. The actual date was June 5, 2016, one year later than the MPRB states. So, it is hard to believe anything that the MPRB publishes when they can't even get their own dates right.

    And, why did the back 9 take so long to reopen? We understand that the MPRB stalled the repair of the back nine. SaveHiawatha18 believes that this was done so that the MPRB could apply for FEMA money to repair the course, and they did receive a $1.1 million award from FEMA for Hiawatha Golf Course repairs. But, the golf course resumed operation WITHOUT using any of this FEMA money. Repairs were pumping the water out in less than 2 weeks and reseeding fairways, hardly a huge expense. The FEMA money was not received until 2019, 3 years after the golf course was back in full operation.

    Regarding the MPRB's statement that the golf course had a $600,000 loss of net income due to the flood, we can only understand the concept of "loss of net income" as being the difference between the net income/loss from 2013 to 2014, and 2013 to 2015. For 2013, 2014 and 2015, Hiawatha Golf Course had the following net losses:

  • 2013: ($401,064)
  • 2014: ($696,557)
  • 2015: ($448,648)
  • So, the increase in the loss from 2013 to 2014 was $295,493 ($696,557-$401,064). The increase in loss from 2013 to 2015 was $47,584 ($448,648-$401,064). Thus, the total loss in net revenue for the 2 years that the golf course was not in full operation would be $343,077 ($295,493 + $47,584), not $600,000. It is totally unclear where the MPRB gets their number of $600,000.

    The FEMA money ($900,000) was ultimately received in 2019 by the Park Board for the 2014 flood of Hiawatha Golf Course. It was never credited against the losses for 2014 and 2015. We understand that it was allocated as income to the Enterprise Fund as a whole in 2019, and then distributed to Hiawatha Golf Course, Gross Golf Course and Wirth Golf Course for general maintenance and repairs in 2019.

    On another note, in 2013 (prior to the flood) Hiawatha golf course was already starting to bleed money with a loss of $401,064 because of poor maintenance and a lack of capital investment. This was the conclusion of a consultant hired by the Park Board to study the issue in 2013. So, the flooding just added some loss to an already messed up proposition.

    Minnesota's climate is getting wetter. Large, intense weather events are becoming more frequent, increasing the risk of flooding at the golf course.

    The main reason that flooding is increasing at Hiawatha Golf Course is because little or nothing is being done to mitigate the increasing amount of water coming into and passing through this property. Until this is done, no real solution to the effects of climate change will be put in place.

    According to the Minnesota State Climatology Office, precipitation is increasing in intensity and frequency in Minnesota. As our local climate gets wetter, the risk of flooding at the golf course increases. Regional groundwater modeling, updated recently to reflect current climate data, showed the increase in precipitation also results in higher recharge rates to groundwater. This causes elevated groundwater levels throughout the metro.

    The risk increases only if nothing is done to mitigate the amount of water being sent into this area. And right now, South Minneapolis is saturated with water, so any plan to retain more water in an area that is already heavily saturated with water is a totally foolish, if not impossible, proposition.

    The Hiawatha Golf Course Property, which pumps shallow regional groundwater, stormwater runoff, and seepage from the lake, must pump more than ever, even outside of intense single rain events. Approximately 35 acres of the property lie below the ordinary high water level of Lake Hiawatha, putting the property in a vulnerable condition that relies entirely on the berm and significant pumping to maintain soggy conditions that are less than ideal for golf. This vulnerability is expected to increase with the changing, wetter climate.

    The vulnerability of this property will increase if proper solutions are not implemented to mitigate the flow of more and more water into this area. Lake Hiawatha and the Hiawatha Park property cannot continue to be the dumping ground for the whole watershed and the City of Minneapolis.

    If some real solutions were implemented that make other communities responsible for their storm water, the golf course wouldn't be so wet! And, pumping would be reduced.

    And, finally, the Park Board's plan will move the pumping into the neighborhoods. How can it be OK to pump in the neighborhoods, where we truly have much more vulnerable properties and structures, but it is not OK to pump on the golf course where there are no vulnerable structures? This thinking defies common sense.

    In Conclusion

    The two questions were:

    Why does the Park Board want to reduce pumping?

    You have talked extensively about why you think eliminating the berm will allow water to move back and forth in a larger area, but that does not answer the question of why you want to REDUCE pumping. I do not see a clear answer to question that was posed. You keep skirting around the actual question. Please answer this question directly.

    Why is pumping bad?

    Again, you have talked extensively about why the berm is bad, but not why pumping is bad, while avoiding talking about moving the pumping into the neighborhoods and the potential negative effects this could have on the nearby homes and businesses. Please answer the question directly. And, if your premise is that pumping is bad on the golf course, then it is also bad in the neighborhoods. You can't say that it is bad for the golf course and good for the neighborhoods. We believe that pumping is good wherever it is needed, but better on a property that has no vulnerable structures.

    Also, at Meadowbrook Golf Course you have a berm protecting the golf course, and you pump water over the berm just as is done at Hiawatha Golf Course. And, that water ends up where? In Lake Hiawatha! So it is OK for Meadowbrook to pump, but not for Hiawatha? Both are MPRB golf courses.

    Plus, you talk about wanting more storage capacity. You can dredge the current lake bed as many other communities are doing, which would create more capacity and clarify the lake.

    One final concern; are we getting back to the idea that Michael Schroeder proposed at a Commissioner's meeting? He said that he could make money from the new wetland by having developer's pay to dump their storm water into the new wetland so that they could bypass their current requirement of handling their own storm water on their property.

    So, we would be curtailing a current recreational activity that is enjoyed by up to 35,000 people a year so that the Park Board can make money off of developers, while continuing to use the Hiawatha neighborhood as a dumping ground for water?