The volume of water being pumped from Hiawatha Golf Course is enough to flood the course and seep into as many as 18 nearby houses, according to an evaluation commissioned by the Minneapolis Park Board as it weighs the course’s future.
Park officials outlined the findings in two community meetings this week. They also asked residents for more information about seepage they’ve already experienced, in hopes of better understanding what would happen if the two pumps draining ponds at the golf course were turned off.
Drainage problems at the course arose two years ago when torrential rains coursing down Minnehaha Creek into Lake Hiawatha drowned much of the golf course. That led to the discovery that park officials were pumping seven times the state-permitted amount of water from stormwater ponds on the course into Lake Hiawatha.
The Park Board now is working with the city and Minnehaha Creek Watershed District to explore options to remedy the situation involving both continuing to pump and turning off the pumps. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) determines who may pump groundwater.
Joe Richter, DNR groundwater appropriations hydrologist, said the potential flooding of basements strengthens the Park Board’s case for continuing to pump. The area where homes are potentially at risk is near the intersection of 19th Avenue S. and E. 44th Street.
“We don’t want homes to flood. We don’t want people to have problems,” he said Wednesday.
The news was unsettling to some of the homeowners. Elizabeth Scott and James Houston said they pumped groundwater out of their basement for about four months after the 2014 rains. Scott said she was astounded that water conditions in the area around their 1970s-era house hadn’t been measured previously.
Area Park Commissioner Steffanie Musich said she can’t predict how the board will vote on seeking a permit to keep pumping. 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.”
Golf in doubt
The analysis of water flows in the area concluded that pumps in two ponds on the golf course are removing 263 million gallons of groundwater and 55 million gallons of stormwater annually. About 40 percent of the groundwater pumped from the ponds over a berm into Lake Hiawatha is water that seeped from the lake into those ponds, according to consultant Barr Engineering, meaning that water is being pumped in a relentless cycle.
Turning off the pumps wouldn’t leave enough land above water for golf to continue, area residents were told. The resulting higher water table would also likely leave the lowest-lying homes in blocks immediately west of the course vulnerable to wet basements, Barr calculated.
But City Council Member Andrew Johnson, who represents the area, said he doesn’t “want people to have financial anxiety over this.”
“It’s hard for me to imagine where homeowners would be left high and dry,” he said.
Richter said some have suggested pumping only enough to keep the homes dry and stormwater from backing up on nearby streets. He said pumping that much would likely leave most of the golf course above water.
But Michael Schroeder, an assistant park superintendent, said no conclusions have been reached about a reconfigured golf course in that scenario. The groundwater might still be too close to fairway surfaces for golf to be feasible, he said.
“We can no longer be sure that the golf course will continue to exist,” Schroeder said at a community meeting Wednesday.
Some area residents would like to see the course, which opened its back nine to resume play on 18 holes last week, converted to non-golf park use. But Musich said losing golf course fees would put more pressure on the park budget to maintain it.