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Is the Nokomis Swamp a Predecessor to the Hiawatha Swamp?

September 6, 2017.

Homeowners on the southwest side of Lake Nokomis have had over 40 water problems in the past 3 years: wet basements, sinkholes and broken sewer pipes. What do these problems have to do with the closing of Hiawatha Golf Course?

We first need to look at what is happening at Lake Nokomis!

It appears that the water problems probably started with a change in the park on the southwest corner of Lake Nokomis. Holding ponds were built in this park land between the edge of the lake and Nokomis Parkway. These ponds have now grown into large swamps, and appear to still be growing. Could they soon take over the whole park property to the west of Lake Nokomis. Part has already jumped over Nokomis Parkway and started taking over the boulevard between Edgewater Boulevard and Nokomis Parkway. Are the homes next?

This park land used to be dry. There was grass and trees; people picniced there, and practiced archery. The high schools held cross country meets there.


According to records kept by people in the neighborhood, the problems with the homes and streets appear to have started in 2014. This is when the area had the last massive rain storm, and water flooded a large portion of this area, including the Hiawatha Golf Course.

There are several factors that need to be considered in this scenario:

  • Water in Lake Nokomis comes from rainwater and water runoff from a wide area around the lake.
  • The lake level of Lake Nokomis is controlled by the Lake Nokomis weir south of Minnehaha Parkway and east of Cedar Avenue. This weir controls whether water flows from Lake Nokomis into Minnehaha Creek. When the weir is closed, which is most of the time, the lake level of Lake Nokomis stays artificially high.
  • The Gray's Bay Dam at Lake Minnetonka controls how much water goes into Minnehaha Creek from Lake Minnetonka. When Gray's Bay Dam is releasing water into Minnehaha Creek, the weir at Lake Nokomis is not allowed to release water into Minnehaha Creek.
  • A clue to how high the lake level is compared to the past is the fact that it is substantially over the old WPA stone wall that surrounded Lake Nokomis. And, the new Lake Nokomis barriers are substantially over the water gauge marks on the old Lake Nokomis weir.

    This leads to the conclusion that the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) has been keeping the level of Lake Nokomis artificially high. In other words, they are not allowing Lake Nokomis to drain into Minnehaha Creek in a normal (natural) manner.

    The flood of 2014 saturated many areas of South Minneapolis with water. This water should drain off naturally after the storm passes, and drier weather prevails. But, how can the water drain naturally from the area around Lake Nokomis when the weir is closed, and the lake is being kept artificially high? This water would stay where it is. As more rain falls in the future, it has fewer places to go, and it collects in areas where it never was before. As the swamp grows, there is less and less capacity for holding water when it rains. This must have the effect of raising the water table under the properties around Lake Nokomis as the water spreads out from the original lake.

    The evidence is mounting that something is going on under these homes and streets. Homes that have never had water, now have water in their basements. There are more and more sinkholes showing up in the streets that have to be repaired. The swamp to the southwest of Lake Nokomis is continually expanding every year. And, the trees on this property are dying. Even the newest trees that have been planted appear to be dying.

    On the monetary side, realtors have said that once a house has water in its basement, this fact must be disclosed when selling the property, and this will, most likely, lower the sale price of the home by $25,000 to $50,000.

    It is unclear to us what the MPRB's intention is for the creation of the holding ponds (now an expanding swamp) next to Lake Nokomis, and keeping the level of Lake Nokomis high. But, it appears to be having a very negative effect on the properties in the nearby neighborhood.

    What Does This Have To Do With Hiawatha Golf Course?

    The MPRB wants to create an even larger swamp on the Hiawatha Golf Course property. The Hiawatha Golf Course property is very low, with a high water table. And, there are homes to the northwest and west of the golf course property that would be very near, if not next to, this proposed swamp. The lake level of Lake Hiawatha is also being affected and controlled by these factors:

  • 179 square miles of surrounding property drain or are pumped into Lake Hiawatha and the golf course.
  • Minnehaha Creek, downstream of Lake Hiawatha, controls the height of Lake Hiawatha. The lake cannot go any lower than the height of the weirs and obstacles in Minnehaha Creek downstream.
  • The controlled release of water from Lake Minnetonka through Gray's Bay Dam into Minnehaha Creek has kept the lake level constant over the past few decades. This is according to the MPRB's Barr Report of February 2017.

    The MPRB's plan to flood parts of the golf course will result in a permanent reduction in the capacity of the golf course property to handle water during rain storms, as has happened at Lake Nokomis. And, Lake Nokomis has shown that it is likely that the proposed swamp on the golf course property will continually expand, if the level of Lake Hiawatha is controlled at a constant level, as has been true in past decades. This could increase the water table in the surrounding residential areas, thus, increasing the likelihood of sinkholes, water in basements and broken water pipes, as has happened in the Lake Nokomis area. Keeping the golf course in place keeps this property dry, which protects the homes.

    The experiences now playing out southwest of Lake Nokomis should be a big warning to the MPRB that the same scenario is very likely to play out around the Lake Hiawatha Golf Course property if they try and implement their alternative plan.

    Some people, including the 5th District Park Commissioner Steffanie Musich, have said that these properties were once swamps, so they should go back to being swamps. If the surrounding properties were still undeveloped, as they were in the 1920's, we could accept that premise. But, the people and their homes and businesses now exist, and there are millions of dollars at risk.

    These investments and livelihoods bordering both lakes cannot, and should not, be ignored!