Would you drain a treasured lake in The City of Lakes to save nine holes of golf?

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What is causing the flooding at Hiawatha Golf Course is the fact that it is in the floodplain. The course has sunk and now exists 3-4 feet below the water elevation as evidenced by the fact that it now requires pumping 400 million gallons of polluted water to keep 18 holes in operation. Lake Hiawatha exists because of the topography of the land. Like any lake.

If money, legal, ethical and environmental considerations were not a factor, would it be possible to change the topography of the land to drain Lake Hiawatha? Possibly.

Would you drain a treasured lake in The City of Lakes to save nine holes of golf?

This is what we saw proposed in the Lehman Bronze concept presented on April 6. It proposed to visit environmental devastation on the habitat, ecology and wildlife of Lake Hiawatha by cutting off all flow to the lake and draining it down 3-4 feet, turning it into a stagnant swamp and holding pond. it proposes to channelize Minnehaha Creek and separate the creek entirely from lake Hiawatha. It would entirely eliminate the Lake Hiawatha Delta Habitat area where Minnehaha meets Hiawatha. The delta habitat is the heart of the lake’s biodiversity and has been the focus of countless hours of community restoration work. Friends of Lake Hiawatha have worked for years with Dakota friends to restore foods and medicines obliterated from this land in 1929.

Consider the before and after shown above. A picture from MNHS shows Rice Lake in 1929 prior to formation of Lake Hiawatha, and the 1936 photo of the completion of this work:

Lake Hiawatha was formerly known as Rice Lake. It was always a lake as far back as records go. You can see in the photo that an apocalypse was visited upon Rice Lake and nature. The lake dredged, wetlands filled in and removed, the creek straightened, and the lake shore walled. Every tree, plant and animal displaced or destroyed. Wild rice gone, wetlands gone, The stewards of the land - Dakota Peoples starved, interned, executed, decimated and expelled from the state of Minnesota.

Dakota Peoples survived and have worked with us to restore the foods and medicines that were eliminated from this place and we will not move backwards in our progress, nor allow another apocalypse to be visited upon the recovering ecology of Lake Hiawatha.

It bears repeating: "Friends of Lake Hiawatha object to any plan that damages, alters, or eliminates existing habitat. We object to any plan that kills, displaces or threatens existing wildlife residents. We object to any plan that drains or damages Lake Hiawatha and its aquatic, avian and terrestrial inhabitants. We object to any plan that separates Lake Hiawatha from Minnehaha Creek. We object to any plan that deprives the community of the recreational asset of Lake Hiawatha by draining and reducing it to a stagnant holding pond.
We support the Hiawatha masterplan because we worked with the community, golfers and the Park Board for seven years to ensure that it did none of the above.” FOLH 2022

Lowering the lake proposes sacrificing our lake and ecology for golf. As important as the history of our local municipal golf courses may be, it is not necessary to sacrifice our future to preserve the past. We are in a climate crisis and the answer is not to foist our problems on downstream communities as proposed by Southside Pride and in the Lehman Bronze concept. Nor is the answer to continue pumping hundreds of millions of gallons to deprive the floodplain of its natural function of mitigating flooding. Lake Hiawatha already has the shortest residence time of any lake in Minneapolis. The answer is not to even further increase our negligence to downstream communities by increasing the burden of water on them. The ongoing destruction of the Mississippi River Delta and the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico are in large part the result of the removal of wetlands and the channelization and leveeing of upstream waters like this one.

Look, I care about wildlife, I care about history and I care about people.

It is not true that I care about wildlife more than people. But we must work with nature and it is fruitless to attempt to chain her. It is interesting to note that the Lehman Bronze concept in the unlikely event it was implemented, could be undone by one family of beavers currently residing at Lake Hiawatha. This is because in the Lehman Bronze concept, the ecological system would lose its adaptability and create chokepoints that rely on tightly controlled water elevations. This would necessitate trapping and killing beavers. In the Hiawatha master plan this would not be necessary because the system would be adaptive enough to incorporate the activity of beavers in the system with no single chokepoints and numerous potential avenues for water to flow. The Lehman Bronze concept “ponds" water by cutting off flow and the Hiawatha masterplan does not.

It allows water from the creek and lake to flow freely through the floodplain and allows gravity to carry the water downstream while still preserving Hiawatha Golf Course as a par 36, full-length, ecologically driven, championship 9-hole course for future generations to enjoy by raising it above the 10-year flood elevation and restoring wetland function to the watershed. Changing nothing offers a shortened lifespan for Hiawatha Golf Course and denies our changing climate and the environmental damage we are obligated to undo.


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