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Remodeling Arden Park

Steven J. Timmer August 28, 2017

[I have written an addendum that I hope you will read even if youve read this article before.]

This is a conclusion of sorts to two previous pieces I wrote about the proposed Minnehaha
Creek restoration as it passes through Arden Park. You can read them here:

I want to return to two subjects: flooding and the science behind the restoration. The risk of
increased flooding and standing water in and surrounding Arden Park is real, and the science
behind the proposal is flimsy.


Here is a 1992 aerial photo of the creek in St. Louis Park as it passes by the hospital. Its ruler
straight. Meadowbrook Lake is just to the south.

The answer to the question I posed at the end of this article, Which of the three jars of water came from Arden
Park? is the left-most one.
And here is a Google map of the creek as it passes through Edina.

This is not ruler straight. (I couldnt get rid of the country club legend, sorry.) It sort of
meanders, doesnt it?

One of the places where the creek endangers property, including St. Stephens Church, when it
gets high, is at the corner of 50th and Wooddale. You can see the dog leg meander south
that the creek takes east of St. Stephens. The meander undoubtedly backs water up behind it.

Here is a part of an 1898 plat map of the Arden Park area.

This map is courtesy of Jim and Lori Grotz who searched the Edina Historical Society records to
find it. (They obtained the St. Louis Park aerials, too.) The double line near the top with the 18
through it is 50th Street. The line toward the bottom, above the No. 17 lettering, is what
would become 54th Street, or pretty close to it.

The creek in 1898 looked much as it does today, with a couple of exceptions. It appears when
50th Street was straightened out, that the creek was rerouted to make the sharper dog leg we
see today. We also know that today the creek turns east for a bit and then heads south again
just above 54th Street. It apparently used to hug the bluff on the west side more closely.

This is an aerial photo from 2013 of the same St. Louis Park area shown above after it was

This looks to me more like a boat ride at Six Flags than anything you would really see in nature.


And this is a photograph from the Star Tribune of the creek as it passed by Methodist Hospital
in June 2014. If you have been to the site, you know how tall the cattails are; they look to be
submerged in a lot of water. 2014 was a very high water year, of course, but whos to say it
wont be repeated? Katrina was a 100 year event, so was Sandy. Harvey is supposed to be a
500 year event. They all happened in 12 years.

This photograph is an example of the law of unintended consequences.


This is a photograph of Methodist Hospital pumping water out of its campus in August 2017 in a
period of sustained low creek flow, over the floodwall it built after the 2014 high water. (I think
the floodwall was completed in 2016.)

I suppose it is possible that the hospital just coincidentally decided to build a floodwall after the
scene above, but I doubt it. The purpose of the installed meanders is to hold and slow water,
and it appears they did an admirable job. The hospital obviously believes that the high water
will be back.


Here is a photo of the flood plain at Methodist taken on a couple of days earlier, also in
August 2017. There hadnt been a flood here for a long time. But there is so much water that I
thought initially this was the main channel of the creek.


And finally, here is a rendering of the proposed meanders in Arden Park. This is not a return to
the good old days, as weve seen.

Some of you will recall from the presentations by the MCWD at a community meeting in July
and a council meeting in August that the MCWD plan would expand the flood plain. Swell.

What would this area look like in a period of high water like 2014? If the creek was feet above
its banks, where would the water go? I am certainly not able to advance an opinion, but if the
city is serious about doing this, I think it had better get a second opinion.2

2 th
The same people who are bringing this to the city are the ones who proposed the fish passage when the 54
Street redo was being planned a few years ago. It was a concrete culvert, about 4 high and narrower, as I recall,
that would connect the creek above and below the dam when flow was high enough to reach the lip of the culvert
on the upstream end. I cant remember what the flow had to be for that to happen, according to the MCWD and
its experts. The idea was that fish would swim fifty yards or so uphill against a probably strong current (the creek
would be up, remember?), without even a place to stop and rest partway. Until, anyway, the culvert got clogged
with debris, and somebody probably a shorter employee at the public works department had to go into the
culvert and clean it out. Luckily, this MCWD staff and inter fluve idea was killed by the MCWD Board of Managers.

And I think the city had better get assurances, too. Not Blessed Assurances like the hymn, but
rather put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is assurances for public and private flood damage
and repair costs.

The Science

The creek side of the project involves basically three things: 1) the meanders and all that
involves, including the tree removal, 2) the removal of the 54th Street dam, and 3) filtering
storm water runoff at some locations (but not apparently, at 54th Street). At the science
community meeting in July and the council meeting in early August, the MCWD told us that the
restoration was to attack storm water runoff pollution, including phosphorus and road salt,
and oxygenate the water. This would improve water quality for invertebrates and fish.

The first thing we must recognize is that the meanders and the removal of the dam have
nothing to do with removal of pollutants from the creek. Nothing.3

This is an easy thing to forget.

The filtration of storm water would reduce this pollution, but it can be accomplished without
the meanders or the dam removal, and far more economically. Maybe theyd even have
enough money left over to do it at 54th Street!

As to the issue of oxygenation, I have written before, in the first piece linked above, that the
real problem is flow, or rather the lack of it, for a lot of the year, and the associated winter kill.
The MCWD admits this. The MCWD also recognizes that the lack of water in the creek is a major
problem. They commission studies to, well, study the problem. One of them is entitled
Baseflow Restoration in Minnehaha Creek Watershed with Stormwater Infiltration, from 2014.

I was especially excited to read section two of this report entitled Minnehaha Creek
Hydrology: Characterizing Flow and Flow Sources. Maybe somebody here would finally say,
Yeah, the creek is dry because the MCWD isnt putting water into it.

No such luck, of course. But on page five of the report, there is this description of the operation
of the Grays Bay dam:

The dam opening height is generally altered several times throughout the spring,
summer, and fall to maintain required and or natural discharge.

The MCWD expert didnt claim that they did, rather relying entirely on the justification of oxygenating the water
by the meanders.

This is what the dam operators at the MCWD will tell you: Were just mimicking old Mom
Nature. Even the studys authors had the discretion to put the term natural in quotation
marks. And what does required and or mean in this context? If the lake gets high, we dump
the excess, and if it gets low, we just shut off the creek? I think so.

We can imagine that Will Snelling and his friend observed when they canoed up the creek in
1822, when there was no dam at Grays Bay, that the creek mysteriously stopped running when
the lake hit 929 feet MSL. Really we cant, but the MCWD does.

If the Grays Bay dam provides only natural flow, we can take it out, right? It apparently isnt

Well, anyway, the study goes on to discuss the feasibility of capturing storm water runoff and
storing it for later release. I guess one primo spot for doing this is Utley Park. Dont worry,
tennis players and visitors to the veterans memorial; itd be in a riparian aquifer under the
park! Although maybe the ground would get a little spongy. Lets just hope they filter the water
before they put it in the ground. (You have to wonder if this would mean that St. Stephens
would be attacked from both the south and the west: surface water on the south and
groundwater on the west.)

I also looked at a report commissioned by the MCWD, and done by RMB Environmental
Laboratories, Inc., of Detroit Lakes, issued in July 2016, titled Macroinvertebrate Assessment. I
got it from MCWD staff; I dont think its posted on the net. If you want to see it, send me an
email at stevenjtimmer at gmail dot com and I will send it to you. From page 15 of the study:

Minnehaha Creek has a relatively fair biological community for an urban stream, with all
but five sites [out of thirty, ed.] meeting the Modified Use IBI goal, and three of those
five sites just under the Modified Use IBI goal (Figures 8-9). These sites also had
moderate POET richness, ranging from 4-8 taxa. Notable POET taxa included numerous
caddisfly genera of Hydropsychidae, Hydroptilidae, Leptoceridae, and mayfly genera of
Baetidae, Leptohyphidae, and Heptageniidae.4 Only two sites, 16 and 20, were over 5
points away from the Modified Use IBI goal (Figures 8-9).

So, not so bad, huh?

Station 15 is in Arden Park and station 14 is below the 54th Street dam, so they meet the
Modified Use IBI goal. There are so few bugs, I think, because they are winter killed.

I must admit, there are more kinds of invertebrates found than I expected, especially mayflies, which require
pretty clean water.

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The study points to poor habitat and low dissolved oxygen as problems. But you can read the
study, front to back, stem to stern, and you will never see a word about the lack of flow as a
reason for the oxygen problem. Or winter kill, either. Lack of flow also contributes to a
deterioration of streambed habitat, because of siltation.

In both studies, it seems that people are failing to see that which they dont want to see. Or
perhaps are paid not to see.

There is a great quote from the end of the bug study though:

Stream habitat restoration projects could be considered for most of these streams. In
addition to restoring varied habitat, any water quality issues must also be identified and
fixed. Low dissolved oxygen is one of the water quality parameters that can affect the
macroinvertebrate community the most, and many of these stream reaches are
impaired for dissolved oxygen. Re-testing the macroinvertebrate community a couple
years after a stream restoration project would be a great way to measure the
effectiveness of the restoration and quality of the habitat. [emphasis added]

In other words, when the MCWDs expert tells you that the bugs will improve when the dam is
removed and the meanders put in, he has no idea. Really. Hes wishin and hopin. I dont think
the MCWD has before and after data on places it has restored.

This all may seem like inside baseball to you, but its not. Its the claimed scientific basis on
which an enormous and risky change to Arden Park is proposed.

While we are in the neighborhood, so to speak, how do you oxygenate water? You have to mix
it with air. Sort of like this:

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This is the riffle below the 54th Street dam. The white parts are where the air is mixing with
water. You can also see the flecks of foam, which are really air bubbles. There is about a four
foot grade change between the top of the dam and the bottom of the dam. The MCWD is
proposing to swap this out for a series of small steps that may or may not oxygenate water.
But no white stuff, not much oxygenation.5 6

But at all events, it is the same four feet.

I invite you all to go and walk the boardwalk at Methodist Hospital, and look at the creek, if you
can find it, and tell me how much oxygenating action you see.

Many of you have seen the fountain spraying water into the air at Lake Cornelia. Yeah, it looks
cool, all right, but its purpose is to mix air and water to oxygenate the water.

So, whats really going on here?

In spite of the claims, this proposal is in no way a restoration. It is just the MCWDs idea of
what a cool creek might look like. It is a form of remodeling.

In a real restoration, the first dam we would take out is the one at Grays Bay.

In a real restoration, we wouldnt add those silly meanders (not remeanders, because they
were never there) and create an unknown flood risk.

In a real restoration, wed return the Great Lawn to the wetland it almost certainly was (thats
why it is spongy), rather than trying to dry it out.

In a real restoration, we wouldnt lower the creek as it passes through Arden Park, just to dry
out the lawn.

In a real restoration, wed filter the water coming off of 54th Street and the other streets in

The list goes on and on.

I dont want you to take my word for this. Please see:
Parenthetically, the tailwaters of some large dams out west on the Big Horn River (the Yellowtail Dam), the upper
Missouri River (the Holter Dam), and the Frying Pan River (the Reudi Dam), just for example, are very oxygenated
and bug and fish rich. You could make a case for more abrupt grade changes on the creek, not fewer.

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You can be in favor of this if you want. Just please recognize that it is more artificial than
anything thats there now.

Plainly, this is a misuse of the word restoration. It is misleading, deceptive, and its

I dont know how else to describe it.


Addenedum 9 -5-17

To provide a short explanation of why the meanders create a flood risk, I will draw an analogy
to another fluid: freeway traffic. Recall what happens when you are driving on the Crosstown
west and you approach the curves at France or Tracy Avenue. What inevitably happens? The
traffic slows down and backs up. And the cars bunch up, getting closer as they slow down. More
cars occupy the same amount of space than when traffic is at normal speed.

Traffic is a compressible fluid; water is not compressible. It isnt possible to put more water into
the same space. It has to go somewhere, and thats back and up.

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