Oops! The Park Board's own golf course may be illegally polluting Lake Hiawatha

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Millions of gallons of Hiawatha Golf Course groundwater is ending up in Lake Hiawatha.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board hopped on the litigious party bus fast in early 2014. The month prior the city of Minneapolis had filed suit against the owner of a swanky 56-unit apartment building at 1800 W. Lake St. for illegally discharging too much groundwater into the lagoon between Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun.

The board, citing its authority over waters adjacent to parks, wanted payment for these sins.

An aquatic biologist reported that the excess groundwater was bad news. Barr Engineering's Jeff Lee said Lake Calhoun's water clarity had suffered since the apartment owner began pumping in 2011. Lee drew a connection between the discharge and an 8 percent increase in phosphorous in the lake, which was contributing to algae growth. 

When the suit was finally settled, defendant Lake and Knox company agreed to pay nearly $300,000.

Fast forward to Tuesday night.

Golf enthusiasts packed the Lake Nokomis Community Center, psyched to hear what the Park Board planned for their beloved Hiawatha Golf Course, one of the two board-owned courses ransacked by floods last year.

The meeting was promoted "as a great chance to provide valuable feedback to discuss concept plans for Hiawatha golf course and clubhouse, Minnehaha Creek, and the adjacent parkland."

But dark skies befell the unsuspecting throng.

Board member Steffanie Musich told the crowd that plans of renovated glory "had changed drastically." She cited a consultant's report that showed 273 million gallons of groundwater from the course was being pumped into two ponds annually. And that water was making its way to Lake Hiawatha.

The course's permit allows for only 38.5 million gallons.

Oops.

That leaves the course's full re-opening on indefinite hold. How the Park Board will use the land "is unknown," says Musich.  

"I can assure that this land will remain park land, even if golf is not a viable use of the space."

And just like that, a room full of golfers turned bent. 

Musich says it's premature to say how, or if, the groundwater is contributing the lake's pollution because it has yet to be analyzed. She would say that it was likely that Lake Hiawatha's water wasn't being helped by the massive discharge, which equals seven and a half minutes of water flowing over Niagara Falls.  

"At this point what I'll say is we have ecological concerns."

"It's hard to imagine pulling that much groundwater out without messing with the lake's chemistry," says Minneapolis City Councilman Andrew Johnson. "From previous experiences, we've seen how excess groundwater being pumped into a lake can cause pollution."  

In the meantime, the course's front nine holes are open.

A full report on the groundwater is due out in November. 


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