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Chain of Lakes Project

Improving some of the Twin Cities' heaviest used lakes

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The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District (MCWD) undertook this long-term project to improve the water quality in the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes. The project specifically focused on stormwater management in the Twin Lakes Subwatershed to improve the water quality of Cedar Lake.

The MCWD worked closely with St. Louis Park, Minneapolis, and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) to incorporate the watershed improvements into the Clean Water Partnership Grant that was awarded to MPRB. A cooperative agreement among the parties, including Hennepin County, coordinated responsibilities for the six years of overall improvements.

Water quality improvement efforts were focused on the Twin Lakes Subwatershed and Cedar Lake mainly because of public cooperation and the desire to improve water quality by the local communities. According to a 1993 diagnostic study, Twin Lakes Subwatershed contributes more than 50 percent of the flow and more than 60 percent of the phosphorus loading into Cedar Lake. Specific projects identified to improve water quality of runoff entering Twin Lakes and Cedar Lake included:

  1. Excavation of a 1.3-acre wet detention basin upstream of Twin Lakes within Twin Lakes Park. The purpose of the wet detention basin was to improve stormwater quality prior to discharge into Twin Lakes, provide additional storage for runoff in St. Louis Park that is prone to occasional high water, and restore part of a former wetland that had been filled.
  2. Dredging of Twin Lake to an average depth of 5.5 feet to increase the hydraulic residence time, which increased sediment and nutrient removal prior to discharging to Cedar Lake. The existing Twin Lake outlet was also lowered by 1 foot to enable adequate hydraulic gradient for the Twin Lakes Park improvements, provide additional lake storage capacity for stormwater, and increase the flow capacity of the existing outlet to help alleviate local flooding.
  3. Excavation of a 4.6-acre wet detention basin/wetland system at the Cedar Meadows area near the southwest corner of Cedar Lake, located south of Cedar Shore Drive between France Avenue and Cedar Lake Parkway. This segment of the project included diversion of a portion of the Twin Lakes outflow and local drainage to the Cedar Meadows area to further treat stormwater runoff entering Cedar Lake

The projects, conducted in phases, were completed in 1996.

Chain of Lakes Project Specifications:

  • Location: Twin Lake/Cedar Lake, Minneapolis
  • Completed: 1996
  • Contractor: Veit and Company, Inc.
  • Engineer: Wenck Associates, Inc.
  • Cost: $1.4 million
  • Funding: MCWD ad valorem tax
  • Twin Lakes Outlet: Lowered 1 foot
  • Twin Lakes Deepening: 81,700 cubic yards excavated; 3.6 acre-feet
  • Cedar Meadows Pond/Wetland: 49,000 cubic yards excavated; 4.4 acres; 11.2 acre-feet
  • Strom Pipe Division: 2,000 lineal feet
  • Subwatershed Area Served: 1,700 acres

At the Heart of Award-Winning Projects Across the Chain of Lakes:

Retention Ponds and People Power Are Getting It Done

Water quality issues make for good partnership-building opportunities. The MCWD and a broad cross-section of elected officials from cities and counties, state and city agencies, private engineering firms, and involved citizens continue to receive local, state, and national award recognition for high-profile water quality improvement projects. Key projects and individuals have been singled out for awards that salute not only cleaner lakes, but innovative partnerships that capitalize on strategic citizen dedication and input.

The CF Industries National Watershed Award

The CF Industries National Watershed Award was given by the Conservation Fund to MCWD and its partners for the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Clean Water Partnership. Each year, the CF Industries National Watershed Award recognizes one corporation and three communities nationwide for their outstanding leadership in protecting America's water resources. As an outgrowth of the National Forum on Nonpoint Source Pollution, convened by the National Geographic Society and The Conservation Fund, the program recognizes the significant, measurable results generated by projects that renew water resources.

The award-winning partnership included the cities of Minneapolis and St. Louis Park, the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Hennepin County and the Minneapolis Park Board. The effort required six years of planning, hours of meetings with citizens and stakeholders, careful coordination with local elected officials, and thoughtful design work. The result was the largest urban lake restoration program in the nation.

Minneapolis Award for Community Service

Pam Blixt, then MCWD Board President, received the Minneapolis Award for Community Service for more than 10 years of protecting natural resources and cleaning up water in Minneapolis and the Minnehaha Creek Watershed.

CUE Award

In addition to these two watershed-related honors, the MCWD was nominated for the City of Minneapolis' CUE Award for its design of the Southwest Calhoun Ponds. The CUE Award is given to individuals and organizations for outstanding designs that improve the quality of the urban landscape.

According to Eric Evenson, MCWD Administrator, "The reason we're getting so much community support is simple: never design a square pond and don't cut down trees! In a city consistently awarded for its beautiful parks and lake areas, aesthetics play just as important role as the engineering mechanics of the pond structures."

Additional Chain of Lakes Projects

 The MCWD built three additional projects:

The Lake Nokomis Project included three ponds, totaling 8.2 acres of restored and new wetlands, and was landscaped with native plants and flowers. The neighbors were so excited that they met often and gave the ponds names: Amelia Pond (Lake Nokomis' European name), Gateway Pond (as a "gateway to the city") and Nokomis Knoll Pond. Engineering models indicate the project removes over 900 pounds of phosphorous each year.

The 60th and First Street Pond in South Minneapolis was built in a partnership with the City of Minneapolis and the Minnesota Department of Transportation. This project reduced flooding problems and reduced phosphorous loading to Diamond Lake. Although the city removed thirty-one houses to build this pond, many of the mature trees were saved, allowing the pond to look like a natural part of the landscape. 

The Pamela Lake Restoration Project in Edina was a cooperative effort between MCWD and the City of Edina. It restored and protected a degraded urban wetland in Pamela Lake and cleaned up the water draining into Minnehaha Creek. The project constructed three wet detention basins in upland areas of the park, removed accumulated sediment in Pamela Lake, and constructed sedimentation basins at the two major storm sewer outfalls to the lake/wetland.

The ponds treats storm water inflows from 129 acres of residential property located in Edina near the Southdale Shopping Center. Site restoration and landscaping was completed in the spring of 2001. This included the construction of new trails in upland areas of the park and the planting of native trees, shrubs, and prairie species to enhance the overall appearance of the park and increase wetland function and wildlife habitat.

Evenson notes that "neighborhood residents expressed concerns regarding declining water quality conditions and general degradation of Pamela Lake. Nutrient and sediment loads flowing into Pamela Lake from urban storm water runoff have impacted the lake's water quality and reduced water depths. So, like the Chain of Lakes, Nokomis, and 60th and First Project, this project is also heavily citizen-driven." According to both Evenson and Blixt, all of these projects have been big win-win-wins for the cities and the entire watershed - and more proof that public works really do benefit the public when all parties work together.

"Besides the influential firepower from the likes of Minneapolis (at the time) Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton and St. Louis Park (at the time) Mayor Gail Dorfman, and several elected city council and county officials, we've had major investment from neighborhoods and involved citizens in the Chain of Lakes projects and all of our upcoming projects. Call it a meeting of power people coupled with people power," Blixt says. "The MCWD Board of Managers enthusiastically views these projects as a great mixture of public service and civic pride."