At least nine and as many as 18 homes west of Hiawatha golf course could see higher groundwater seeping into their basements if golf course pumps into Lake Hiawatha are turned off, according to an analysis of water conditions in the area.
That message was delivered Monday night to about 10 property owners in blocks west of the golf course who responded to an invitation from park planning staff to discuss the findings based on research that began last October. The data will be repeated to a larger audience of area residents, golfers at others Tuesday night in a meeting scheduled for 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Pearl Recreation Center, 414 E. Diamond Lake Road.
The homeowners were advised that the data is preliminary, and that planners working on the issue would like to meet with them individually. "I don't want people to have financial anxiety over this," area Council Member Andrew Johnson said. "It is hard for me to imagine where homeowners would be left high and dry."
The issue arose when the golf course flooded in June of 2014 as torrential rains washed down Minnehaha Creek and flooded shallow Lake Hiawatha, overflowing on large areas of the adjoining course, which has areas lower than the lake. That triggered park planning for how to rebuild the course in a way that might put more of it out of danger of future flooding, using both federal disaster aid and local funds.
But that planning was abruptly halted when it was discovered that the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board was pumping far more water out of stormwater ponds into the lake than allowed by its state permit allowing it to pump water to sprinkle the course.
New measurements now estimate that pumping at 263 million gallons of water annually, compared to a permitted 36.5 million gallons. About 40 percent of that water is migrating through the ground from the lake to which the the Park Board is pumping it. "We're pumping a lot of it in a little circle," Assistant Superintendent Michael Schroder said. The other 60 percent of water pumped into the lake comes from the surrounding groundwater table, he said.
The Park Board now is working with the city and Minnehaha Creek Watershed District to explore options for the situation involving both continuing to pump and turning off the pumps. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources determines who may pump groundwater.
"We don't even know if we're ging to be allowed to keep pumping, Schroeder said. He said one question is whether there are ways other than pumping to keep the course and nearby homes dry.
Schroeder said it's a policy decision whether to keep pumping water out of the ponds into a lake that migrates back into those ponds. Area Park Commissioner Steffanie Musich said she can't predict how the board will vote. But she noted that the board voted unanimously in 2014 to sue a developer who was pumping groundwater into the Chain of Lakes without a state permit.
But she added, "I cannot see us as an organization making a decision to flood people out." The area where homes are potentially at risk for flooding is at the intersection of 19th Avenue S. and E. 44th Street. But Musich said that because the area isn't on floodplain maps, homeowners there aren;t eligible for federal flood insurance.
If the Park Board stopped pumping, most of the former wetland that was dredged to make the golf course will flood at least periodically in substantial rains, according to modeling scenarios deveopled by a consultant to the Park Board. That likely would mean an end to golf at Hiawatha, something that some non-golfers in the area would like to see.
Musich noted that golf course is at least self-sustaining from fees it charges, but if the land reverted to become part of the adjoining regional and neighborhood parks, that would put more pressure on the park budget to maintain it.
The modeling also indicated that under certain conditions without pumping, water would back up out of storm drains in blocks west of the park.
The news was unsettling to some of the homeowners. Elizabeth Scott and James Houston figure they have the deepest nearby basement, a two-level arrangement that's 16 feet deep. They pumped groundwater out of their basement for about four months after the 2014 rains after it accumulated to six inches when the rain hit. Scott said she was astounded that water conditions in the area around their 1970s-era house hadn't been measured previously.
Schroeder also noted that because the Park Board in the 1930s dredged lake mud to fill the wetland for the course, that fill is compacting the boggy subsurface, as has happened at the Chain of Lakes. He said some golf staffers tell him they think that some tees have sunk by a foot duirng their time at Hiawatha.
Schroeder indicated that it's likely to take considerable time to come up with a plan that makes sense, and that multiple agencies such as the DNR, Army Corps of Engineers and federal emergency officials will be involved.
"It's a big deal to talk about a change to the lake, a change to the watershed or a change to the floodplain," he said.
(Photo above: How a portion of Hiawatha golf course looked after the heavy 2014 rains.)