DEWATERING the CHAIN of LAKES: Can Calhoun Recover?

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The federal funding formula for the proposed Southwest LRT could require almost a billion in Minnesota money. Met Council and Hennepin County Commission estimates assumed a 50-50 split in the $1.65-billion-plus projected budget. However the new recipe looks more like 40-percent federal money, 60-percent state and local.

The long-planned but constantly morphing SWLRT, with a “shallow” tunnel in the Chain of Lakes corridor, is the priciest public works project ever proposed in Minnesota. According to Met Council studies the cut-and-cover tunnel plan would dewater about 24,000 gallons of groundwater per day between Cedar, Lake of the Isles and Calhoun. Now a new plan for a “push through” tunnel is being researched but the Environmental Impact Statement is incomplete.

The 16-mile fixed rail route would run from west of route 212 and 494 in Eden Prairie to the downtown baseball stadium, include 18 stops and take more than 40 minutes. Now Eden Prairie’s BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) trip is about 20-minutes to the Minneapolis office/business area.  

Sold to the public as an “equity” plan for the African-American Northside, SWLRT skirts the western-industrial part of Minneapolis never entering minority urban turf. In fact, the latest Northside BRT plans would route buses south on Penn Avenue to Olson Memorial Highway (55) and then east of Interstate-94 to a proposed LRT station at Royalston and Third Avenue North.

Planned under the G.W. Bush administration, SWLRT was to provide time saving, direct, no-transfer rides for exurban and suburban commuters into downtown while avoiding dense, economically stressed communities.

SWLRT, in either the current or another design, appears doomed. Not only is the planned matching money insufficient, the project has a “medium” rating on worthiness, below “high” or “medium high.” Other cities with better planned, financed and supported transit proposals are at the front of the federal trough.

Furthermore SWLRT is not designed to relieve congestion, a priority in new transit bill language. Additionally the new Republican state House speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) says the legislature will focus transportation monies on roads and bridges.

MANAGING WATER

The Minneapolis Chain of Lakes is an ancient Mississippi River channel that was rearranged by glaciers. The “Chain of Lakes” however is manipulated together from two north-flowing lakes, Brownie and Cedar; two south flowing lakes, Calhoun and Harriet; with a wetland in the middle called Lake of the Isles that is ringed by large, old, beautiful homes.

The problem of trying to “manage” water is, of course, that water flows. Contaminated-to-pristine, water moves. Water obeys gravity. Like blood in our bodies, water can be pumped against gravity, but water is also a gas and a solid, a mysterious substance that carries life.

Since October 2011 a new commercial/apartment building diagonally across from Lake Calhoun at 1800 West Lake pumped groundwater into a storm sewer that dumps the water into the lagoon flowing from Lake of the Isles onto Calhoun. Lake Calhoun is the largest, the middle and the anchor lake of Minneapolis’ renown Chain of Lakes. Dewater pumping from the 1800 West Lake sub-basement parking garage has been illegal since construction ended.

Lake Calhoun started out the summer of 2014 with an “A” grade from the city Park and Recreation Board’s latest study. The Board closed the beach at 32nd Street for a couple of days in August but Thomas (the south) Beach was closed for six days in July and from August 5 to “the end of the season.” E. coli (gull, duck and goose poop) and high water causing wave erosion made the beaches dangerous because sand spreads out and carries high levels of bacteria.

*  A necklace of 29 stormwater discharge pipes (“D”) ring Lake Calhoun. If the seven pentagon-shaped grit chambers do not filter out sediment containing phosphorus, organic material and heavy metals bonded to dirt particles, those contaminants flow into the lake. Red arrows indicate the direction of piped stormwater.    

Lake Calhoun is the largest lake in Minneapolis, 400-acres with a maximum depth of 87-feet.

Settlement ponds to the southwest of the lake (see the three round turquoise symbols) are periodically dredged. A fourth settlement structure is at the Lake Street-Excelsior intersection. Debris collecting grit chambers are routinely emptied. (Note: A separate sanitary sewer system carries waste to the Pig’s Eye sewage treatment plant beside the Mississippi River south of Saint Paul.)   

INCOMMUNICADO

It was the state Department of Natural Resources that issued the “temporary” construction permit for the Lake Calhoun 57-unit development including JJ’s Coffee Wine Bistro, Reuter Walton Construction and CPM property management offices at 1800 West Lake. While the DNR issues permits, it cannot enforce them. It’s a political game of circular tag, DNR and other permitting agencies are not granted enforcement powers on the environmental protections they are charged to protect.

“What can we do—send out the sheriff?” a Minnehaha Creek Watershed District administrator replied when I kvetched about a violation. 

Permitting agencies are structured to allow development that is environmentally menacing by attaching conditions. Consistently agencies accept technical propaganda that “best practices” and foolproof equipment will be delivered. “Externalities,” like climate change or frack-induced earthquakes are not considered.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission permits Canadian oil transport company Enbridge to pump tar sands oil across northern Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin, along a trail of leaks and the November 29, 2007 explosion at the Clearbrook “tank farm” that killed two men.

All pipelines leak. Single pipeline leaks under 1% or 2% do not register on internal leak detection systems. The DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement) for Keystone XL notes that several small leaks on the Keystone XL pipeline could lose as much as five percent of its capacity, or 1.7-million gallons a day, without triggering its leak detection system.

The 285-mile Enbridge pipeline in northern Minnesota crosses the mother waters of the Mississippi flowing south, north to Hudson Bay and east out the Great Lakes. The industrial waste pit in Alberta, Canada from where tar sands oil is open-pit mined out of boreal forest land, is a 22 square mile brown opaque lake that can be seen from space.

Imagine an industrial water treatment boom as the next big water business since personal bottled water became vogue. What will “they” do with the waste from all this treated and desalinized water? Will the regulations ever catch up to the technology? Will regulators get enforcement powers?  

So…at international, national, regional, and local levels the systems of agencies we thought would protect our water are not doing the job.

GOOSE POOP and ALGAE                                                                                                    

Illegal dumping since October 2011 into the lagoon that empties into Lake Calhoun amounts to 170 gallons of temperature and dirt-contaminated groundwater per minute. Per year it’s 89-million gallons of groundwater pouring out of a pipe flushing fertilizer runoff and suspended particles quickly, directly into the lake.

The groundwater is sucked up by two, large, continuously operating sump pumps from the lower level of the two-story underground parking garage across the street from the big lake. The lower garage sits as much as 18-feet below the water table and would flood in an hour without dewatering.

Developers claim they didn’t know a permit was required because the water they pumped was simply moved off the site but wasn’t processed as in a manufacturing scenario. That appears disingenuous because they applied for and received a limited-to-construction dewatering permit.

Developers further claim that contractors were supposed to acquire all needed permits but that would be true only during construction. Now that it’s after construction the contractors believe the statute of limitations has run out because developers waited too long to pursue damages.

Or perhaps the developers got caught and then sued contractors and architects. In any case, 170 gallons per minute or 244,800 gallons per day continue to be artificially and illegally moved.

It’s a hot potato legal game that was ultimately settled in a kind of court supervised negotiation between developers, designers, architects, engineers, contractors, the City of Minneapolis but not the Park Board. Water activists are calling for the developers, Lake Knox LLC, to finance water clean-up to pre-construction levels. Ten years ago the Park Board spent $250,000 to clean Calhoun and improve water clarity.

The settlement calls for pumping to stop by March 31 of this year, an “aggressive” time table developers said. Flooding and sealing the lower parking basement and replacing 35 lost parking spaces is expected to cost $3.2-million. Developers earlier claimed a $7.85-million loss without the lower parking slots. In addition $300,000 is to be paid to the city. Lake and Knox LLC expects to recover these sums in law suits against architects and construction companies.

Since Lake Calhoun water reparations are not part of the court findings water activists fear the settlement will encourage further illegal development that can be written off as just another cost-of-business. There is no going back to before the contamination occurred.    

But it’s not just profit-questing that is incrementally dirtying and disappearing our water. The public good is also compromised by our government working from the constant growth model which is comparable to cancer.

When MnDOT violated the 2001 Coldwater Springs protection law mandating “no loss of flow,” a series of legal compromises resulted in the permanent loss of 27,500 gallons of groundwater everyday without end. The original plan was to dynamite and pump in city water.

It’s all very civilized and “realistic” and grown up and completely violates the laws of nature which are forces greater than man. It is as if the extreme droughts, floods, snows, winds, heat and cold of our Intro-to-Climate-Change-nightly-news is just another TV show.   

Hennepin County District Judge Philip Bush found that the pumped groundwater from 1800 West Lake “trespassed” into the municipal storm sewers becoming a public nuisance in winter because the 55-degree groundwater is warmer than lagoon water and doesn’t freeze the way it used to. Skiers, walkers and skaters could fall through so last winter the discharge pipe was simply moved to the middle of the lake.

Brownie Lake suffered the same illegal dumping fate this year resulting in open water where loppet skiers could fall in.

Since 2011, an estimated 75-pounds of phosphorous was piped into Calhoun each summer from 1800 West Lake, adding to pollution in the lake already ringed by neighborhood storm sewers and culverts with road and lawn runoff. Naturally sediment would filter out of water as it rolled and seeped down through soil and rock to thewater table. But if water is collected and piped directly to the water table, it misses the cleaning process.

Each pound of phosphorous can grow as much as 500 pounds of algae. If 1 lb.  phosphorous=almost 500 lb.s algae, then 75 X 500 would grow almost 37,500 lb.s of algae. Yuck! You don’t want to drink it, swimmers always get water in their mouths but skin is human’s largest organ so you don’t have to imbibe it to contaminate yourself.  

The speed of piped water does not allow sediment to drop out of the flow spewed with its particulate matter into Lake Calhoun or Minnehaha Creek or the Mississippi River. At Calhoun maintenance on emptying the subterranean grit chamber (debris traps) has been really difficult with constantly flowing water filling up the storm sewer from 1800 West Lake.   

Here’s what was on balance: Lake Calhoun versus 35 Uptown underground parking spaces. That the lake, the Chain of Lakes, the identity of the City of Lakes and some parking places are squaring off refocuses our view of the parameters of an auto-petro culture.    

WHOLISTIC PLANNING

Since the late 1890s spring fed Minneapolis city lakes have transformed from swimming and fishing holes to scenery. Loring, Isles, Spring, Powderhorn and Brownie are lakes we no longer want to get on our bodies or in our mouths.

Before the buffalo-goose cycle was cut with the great buffalo slaughter, those mammals and birds symbiotically ate, plowed and fertilized the prairie. Bison herds left new, short grasses in their wake for geese. When the grasses grew above the height that a bird could see over and be safe from predators, the birds moved on following the buffalo-improved browse.

If city grasses were higher, taller than geese, the geese would leave. But the    

auto-petro culture and geese favor short lawns. The average goose poops 60 times a day for a 2.6-ounce poop total. And we don’t even eat goose much here in the great turkey producing state.

Can Calhoun survive as a swimmable lake with goose poop closing south beach, a shallow LRT tunnel sucking thousands of gallons of groundwater out daily on the north end and a northeast lake edge development that required 244,800 gallons of daily dewatering for three years? How much time is left before we find out?

All these broken hoops throw natural cycles out of whack like the weather. They accumulate whether we add them together or not. Even if we stopped all earth abuse now the momentum continues.

The dominion over versus stewardship of the earth conversation is irrelevant. Regardless of what “God wrote” we are not in control. We are essentially products of water, not masters of it. And what happens to the water happens to the people.

 

 

One thought on “DEWATERING the CHAIN of LAKES: Can Calhoun Recover?

  1. “Developers claim they didn’t know a permit was required”

    Tch, what a bold-faced lie. How does that even hold up in court, anyway? Ignorance of the law isn’t a defense.

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