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June 14, 2022 Water Level Update: Dam is open; Water levels remain low

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Gray's Bay Dam Opened June 1, 2022
The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District (MCWD) opened the Gray’s Bay Dam for the first time in 2022 on Wednesday, June 1. The dam is currently discharging the minimum allowed rate of 12 cubic feet per second (cfs), which is considered the “base flow” discharge. Due to drought conditions in 2021, water levels have remained low throughout the watershed in 2022, and the release of 12 cfs is being done to both retain water on Lake Minnetonka and prolong flow in Minnehaha Creek as long as possible in case conditions remain dry. Due to drought conditions in 2021 and resulting low water levels, the dam remained closed for 316 days, and was last opened on July 20, 2021.

Water Levels Remain Low as a Result of 2021 Drought
Dry conditions across Minnesota began in 2020 and in 2021, May, June and July, saw drought conditions expand rapidly across the state. In June 2021, MCWD entered the moderate drought designation and remained in that designation until early 2022. In the Twin Cities, 2021 ended the year with 25.96 inches or total precipitation, which is 5.62 inches below normal.

As of June 14, 2022, the Twin Cities has received 12.09 inches of precipitation in 2022, which is 0.04 inches below normal. MCWD anticipates that water levels will continue to fall as the National Weather Services’ 6-10 day outlook and 8-14 day outlook both show above normal temperatures through late June 2022. 

Lake Minnetonka Water Level
The current level of Lake Minnetonka is 929.11 feet, which is 3.48 inches below the ordinary high water level of 929.40 feet. Lake Minnetonka’s water level has risen approximately 14 inches since this past winter. In 2021, Lake Minnetonka’s water level fell another 7 inches after the dam was closed on July 21, 2021, due to evaporation off of the lake.  

Current and historical Lake Minnetonka readings and dam discharge rates can be viewed on MCWD’s website. Real-time readings for Lake Minnetonka can be viewed on this U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) website.

Minnehaha Creek Flow 

Minnehaha Creek is currently flowing at approximately 34 cubic feet per second (cfs) at Hiawatha Avenue in Minneapolis. The graph below shows how snowmelt and rainfall contributed to Minnehaha Creek’s flow beginning in March 2022.  Real-time readings for Minnehaha Creek at Hiawatha Avenue can be viewed on this USGS website.

NEW Minnehaha Creek Headwaters Water Level Sensor & Camera 
MCWD, in partnership with the USGS, has installed a new real-time water level sensor at the Minnehaha Creek Headwaters wetland (where the dam discharges water from Lake Minnetonka into Minnehaha Creek). Real-time water level readings for the Minnehaha Creek Headwaters can be viewed on this USGS website.

In addition to the real-time sensor, a camera was also installed by the USGS to capture a picture every 60 minutes of the area just below the Gray’s Bay Dam as it enters the Minnehaha Creek Headwaters. An interactive graph with water level readings and camera images can be viewed on this USGS website.

NEW Tools & Technology Inform Dam Operations
To better track the variability of precipitation and the response it creates across the watershed, MCWD is in the midst of a partnership with Hennepin County Emergency Management (HCEM) to install a real-time sensor network (RESNET) that includes over 20 new real-time water level and flow sensors across the watershed (locations shown below). Coupled with HCEM's Hennepin West Mesonet weather stations, USGS’ real-time sensors, and tailored weather forecasts from the National Weather Service, this network of sensors and forecast data provides an unprecedented level of detail about how much precipitation has fallen across the watershed and how the watershed responds to the precipitation.

In 2021, MCWD developed a machine learning model which uses the remote sensing data from key RESNET locations to optimize the operation of the Gray’s Bay Dam. In 2022, MCWD is using this machine learning model to continue to fine-tune dam operations and balance the needs of Lake Minnetonka and Minnehaha Creek.

MCWD's real-time sensor network and partnership with HCEM, USGS, and USGS is featured as a "Community Highlight" on page 39 in the recently adopted 2020 State Water Plan: Water and Climate prepared by the Environmental Quality Board. 

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