Minneapolis’ Hiawatha golf course has been pumping hundreds of millions of gallons of water into adjacent Lake Hiawatha without a permit, abruptly halting plans to renovate and reopen the storm-damaged course.
The revelation was a significant setback for a course that has not fully reopened since June 2014 flooding at nearby Minnehaha Creek. The flooding swamped nine of the 18 holes and caused roughly $1 million in damage, leaving park officials to figure out how to reconfigure the course to protect holes from future washouts.
Park officials could find it a challenge to restore all 18 holes if the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources imposes tough pumping restrictions. The lake has struggled with water-quality issues for years, serving as a stormwater outlet for the Corcoran, Central, Bryant, and Northrop neighborhoods, as well as the golf course.
DNR officials have called a meeting Tuesday to sort out the pumping problem and how to fix it.
“We’re anxious to meet with the park officials,” said Kate Drewry, the DNR area hydrologist now responsible for Hiawatha permitting.
Michael Schroder, a Minneapolis assistant park superintendent, said that park officials have hired their own consultant to assist them with groundwater permitting.
“We want to make sure what we’re doing aligns with their [DNR] expectations,” Schroder said.
He said he expects it will take up to three months to get substantive information from the consultant.
The issue emerged when park officials disclosed that they were pumping far more groundwater into Hiawatha than was allowed by a permit. The problem was, however, state records show that the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board never got a permit to discharge water from the course’s stormwater holding ponds into the lake.
The golf course is authorized to pull 38.5 million gallons of water from its ponds and a backup well, but only to water the course, according to state permits issued by the DNR in 1993 and 2003.
Park officials disclosed Sept. 15 that the course is pumping several hundred million gallons of water from one of the golf course ponds into the lake, a revelation that was already causing delays in plans to renovate the course.
The course was built in the early 1930s. For years, park officials have been wrestling with drainage issues, elevating fairways and adding water hazards that could collect runoff. Water has been pumped into the lake to keep water levels on the course in check.
The disclosure came after the Park Board joined a successful city lawsuit in 2014 against a Lake Street developer over a similar issue. He was pumping groundwater from the basement of his luxury apartment parking ramp into the Calhoun-Isles lagoon without a permit. The Park Board is now pumping about three times that much water into Hiawatha without a permit.
A city consultant studying groundwater conditions in the golf course area, once a former swamp, has estimated that the Park Board pumps about 270 million gallons of groundwater per year into nearby waters.
“We went, ‘Wow, that’s not what we were expecting,’ ” said Lisa Cerney, the city’s director of surface water and sewers.
Schroder said a double-check of the numbers came up with the same results.
A series of about a dozen connected ponds have been built at the golf course for irrigation.
City storm sewers to the west of the course were connected to some of the ponds in 2012 so that pollutants could settle out. City officials had hoped to add more filtration ponds to reduce pollution from stormwater entering the lake’s north end. But the new permitting problem has put that project on hold, along with the course restoration and recreational improvements neighbors have wanted.