Fears revived over flows to Camp Coldwater spring

Star Tribune

Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul)

Published Wednesday, April 11, 2001

"Help Protect Sacrd Sites" T-ShirtThe historic Camp Coldwater Spring, a spiritual site to some Indians, appears to be losing some of its water because of nearby road construction, reviving fears that the project will have permanent effects.

According to monitoring tests, the spring, just outside Minneapolis, appears to be affected by periodic pumping taking place to drain the site for construction of the Hwy. 55-Crosstown Hwy. 62 interchange. The tests come atop a ground-water specialist's estimate last fall that storm drains for the interchange could cut the spring's flow by a third. State highway officials modified their plans, but officials of the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District say the changes aren't sufficient to protect the spring's flow.

They're pressing the Minnesota Department of Transportation to permit a dye test to clarify the flow of ground water between the interchange area and the spring. And legislation to bar public agencies from taking actions that would cut the flow is advancing at the Capitol.

The spring is one of the state's most important early sites and is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It served as a base for soldiers who built Fort Snelling in the 1820s and later was the focus of an early white settlement. Indians from a number of tribes that have populated the area have claimed that it has sacred meaning. It also became an icon for those who fought the nearby rerouting of Hwy. 55.

Although the new road runs west of the spring, there has been concern that drainage for the interchange construction would temporarily disrupt flow to the spring and that installation of storm drains nearby could permanently do so.

A district consultant raised concerns last fall that because drains for the project would be lower than the spring outlet, about one-third of water now migrating to the spring would shift toward the drains. The department strongly asserts that it has resolved all of the issues by agreeing to raise the height of the outlet pipe for a key storm drainage pond southwest of the intersection. But the 20-inch increase wasn't as high as the Watershed District sought. Its consultant, hydrogeologist Kelton Barr, also said drainage in a depressed section of the Crosstown is below the spring and could permanently reduce the flow.

Barr said recent monitoring of the spring's flow, as well as the department's pumping tests, suggest but don't prove that spring flows already are temporarily reduced by pumping to drain the construction site.

The Watershed District is in a peculiar position because it has regulatory authority over the spring, but a different district has authority over the interchange area and other areas to the southwest that are believed to be feeding the spring.

Because the issue involves the underground flow of water, study of how the spring is fed is somewhat speculative. Barr and scientists hired by the department study the layers of rock and soil and use monitoring wells to estimate ground water flows.

The state Transportation Department has set a number of conditions for the Watershed District's proposed dye test. The district is scrambling to try to gain approvals from various agencies for the test and hopes to meet with the department today on the issue.

But the district also is pursuing other ways of forcing a test. For instance, it has asked the bordering Lower Minnesota Valley Watershed District to require one, but that body hasn't taken a position. The Minnehaha District also is reserving the option of asking a judge to order one so that it can be done quickly while the Transportation Department isn't pumping the construction site.

Val Svensson, who has been the department's project manager, said the state Department of Health objected to the dye test last fall. Calvin Alexander, the University of Minnesota geology and geophysics professor who would conduct the test, dismissed the Transportation Department's stance. "MnDOT is raising silly objections that sound good but don't mean anything," he said.

The interchange is one of the last portions of the Hwy. 55 project, which has been under construction since 1988 and was debated for years before that. The most controversial portion, between E. 46th Street and the Crosstown, shifted the highway's route east toward Minnehaha Park. That was met with civil disobedience, including the occupation of abandoned houses and trees in the route's path, which brought large police raids to clear protesters.

Barr is the ground water specialist who produced a study last year that concluded that drainage pumping for tunnels to run beneath a new runway at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport could lower water levels in Nokomis and several other lakes by several feet. After a public outcry, airport authorities eventually agreed to use another, costlier construction technique.

"Copyright 2000 Star Tribune. Republished here with the permission of the Star Tribune. No further republication or redistribution is permitted without the express approval of the Star Tribune."