The growing of Lake Hiawatha

Lake Cover PhotoBY ED FELIEN

Ron Sundboom went to a meeting last year to hear about the future of Hiawatha Golf Course. One of the experts at the meeting said that the depth of Lake Hiawatha was 33 feet. Ron asked where he got that information. The staff person said from Wikipedia. Ron thought that information might be out of date. He went out on Hiawatha in the middle of winter with an ice auger and drilled through the ice until he hit bottom. He used a Vexlar Depth Finder and Fish Locater to measure the depth, and he double-checked each reading with a rope and sinker.  He couldn’t find a depth anywhere on the lake close to 33 feet. At the 11 points he drilled he found depths of:
A—10′, B—10′, C—10′ 6”, D—12′ 6”, E—11’ 6”, F—11′, G—11′, H—11′, I—12′, J—11’, K—15′.
The earliest maps of Lake Hiawatha show a much larger lake called Mud Lake. In 1929 Theodore Wirth bought the land for Lake Hiawatha Park and the golf course and dredged the lake to create the golf course and ball fields. Without periodic dredging the lake will collect silt and runoff from Minnehaha Creek and naturally return to being a swamp.
The Lake is probably 4 feet higher than it was when I was a kid growing up at 42nd Street and 29th Avenue.  If the lake were dredged to a depth of 30 feet it would probably reduce the level by 3 to 4 feet and therefore reduce the water table on the golf course and eliminate the need to continually pump water out of the golf course into the lake.  This would greatly diminish the problems of flooding, and the added depth would also clarify the water and make it less muddy and better for swimming.
Brian Shekleton, vice president of the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, had three objections to my suggestion about dredging.
First, he said, “I’ve been told by Minnehaha Creek Watershed District (MCWD) staff that dredging the 50+ acre lake would cost someplace on the order of $25M.”
I find that estimate to be very high.  I contacted S Dredges of Kansas City (they do permanent dredging on the Mississippi).
Fifty years ago Ron Sunboom used to walk through this storm sewer up to Lake Street and climb out a manhole. I used to throw cherry bombs down there on Fourth of July. It was dry for most of the year. Today there is 4 feet of water covering the entrance. That’s how high the lake has risen in 50 years. Ryan Horton, vice president, offered:  “Our Model 7012 HP Versi-Dredge is one truck transportable and self-propelled which reduces operating and set-up costs.  The system itself rents for $36,000 a month plus training and discharge pipe.  For comparison, you can purchase a 7012 HP Versi-Dredge for $542,900, which includes 300 ft. of floating discharge hose and three days onsite training.”  The 7012 HP Versi-Dredge is one of their heaviest pieces of equipment—the one they use on the Mississippi, and it will dredge to a depth of 30 feet.  It would seem to make sense for the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District to purchase a piece like this to perform regular maintenance on the Creek and adjoining lakes.  Purchasing a capital asset and staff time to run it should cost less than a million dollars, well under the $1.1 million budgeted by FEMA for the project.
I asked Lisa Cerney, director of Surface Water and Sewers for the City of Minneapolis Department of Public Works, how much it cost the city to dredge two large drainage ponds on the golf course in 2012.  She said, “Veit was the city’s contractor that completed the dredging for the golf course ponds.  It was $267,000 for the work.”  I find it incredulous that the cost for draining Lake Hiawatha would be almost a hundred times more expensive.
Second, Shekelton said dredging “would have minimal water quality effect because it doesn’t address the ongoing flow of pollutants and sediment into the lake.”  Further, he says, “All pollution that flows out of Lake Minnetonka, the Chain of Lakes, and every storm pipe that dumps directly into Minnehaha Creek flows into Lake Hiawatha. If the reason to dredge is to yield a clean water, then attempting to create a hole into which pollutants can sink won’t be a cost effective tactic.”
I quite agree.  The principal poisons coming into Lake Hiawatha are from Roundup and other pesticides used on residential lawns.  Dredging cannot solve that problem.  Dredging will solve the problems of flooding by lowering the water table, and dredging will clarify the Lake by allowing sediment to sink to the bottom—so kids would not be swimming in muddy water.
Third, Shekelton said, dredging would need to be repeated every five to 10 years.  Let us agree that it’s been 85 years from the last time the Lake was dredged and that’s too long a period.  I think it’s more likely that dredging should be performed every 30 or 40 years, but I agree that this maintenance should be done on a regular basis.  This is a further argument for purchasing the necessary piece of equipment.
[Full disclosure:  I have a very sentimental attachment to the back nine at Hiawatha.  I’ve played it for more than 60 years.  The three players in my foursome are all dead now.  We only played the back nine, and every time I played a hole or hit a shot I brought them back to life.  There is no way for me to judge whether that nostalgia and reverie is a better use of the land than an open marsh or a dog park.  That’s a matter for younger people to decide.  They are the ones who own responsibility for the future.  I am best at recording the past.  But a large part of me believes in the joy I’ve had on the back nine at Hiawatha, and I believe a new generation could also come to find joy in it.]

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