Friends of Diamond Lake helps to create blooming alleys

Organization improves water quality and habitat through neighborhood projects

Rain gardens and permeable pavers dot the alleys in some Diamond Lake neighborhoods, thanks to the efforts of the Friends of Diamond Lake organization. Photos by Nate Gotlieb
Rain gardens and permeable pavers dot the alleys in some Diamond Lake neighborhoods, thanks to the efforts of the Friends of Diamond Lake organization. Photos by Nate Gotlieb

Walk around the Diamond Lake watershed, and you’ll see dozens of driveways with small strips of permeable pavers.

This isn’t by accident.

For the past two years, the organization Friends of Diamond Lake has partnered with area residents and the nonprofit Metro Blooms on the pavers and other installations on their properties. The project has resulted in 51 new features, from permeable pavers to rain gardens, and is projected to reduce the flow of stormwater runoff into the lake by nearly 410,000 gallons annually.

A shot of of the rain garden outside of Dave Oltmans’ house. Oltmans said he planted about 500 to 600 plants in the approximately 10-foot by 30-foot garden.
A shot of of the rain garden outside of Dave Oltmans’ house. Oltmans said he planted about 500 to 600 plants in the approximately 10-foot by 30-foot garden.

“This is (creating) really sophisticated community-level connections,” Friends of Diamond Lake president Mary Martini said. “It’s this next level of sophistication of how people interact as a community to help with environmental improvements.”

The project, known as Diamond Lake Blooming Alleys for Clean Water, grew out of an effort by Friends of Diamond Lake and Metro Blooms to implement stormwater-mitigation projects and improve the lake’s water quality. That effort, which ran from 2010 to 2011, led to the installation of dozens of features around the watershed.

Metro Blooms performed an engineering analysis before the most recent project to identify which alleyways contributed the most pollution into Diamond Lake. Four alleyways participated in the project, with Metro Blooms requiring each alley to have 20-percent participation, Martini said.

Homeowners were required to pay 40 percent of costs for their installations, and Hennepin County and the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District covered the rest.

The new features will keep one pound of phosphorus and 264 pounds of sediment from washing into Diamond Lake each year, according to Friends of Diamond Lake.

“To the extent that we can keep pollutants out this water, we’re helping to keep the (Minnehaha) Creek cleaner and helping keep the Mississippi (River) clean,” Martini said.

Volunteers work to clean up invasive species near Diamond Lake. Photo courtesy Friends of Diamond Lake
Volunteers work to clean up invasive species near Diamond Lake. Photo courtesy Friends of Diamond Lake

The organization is hoping to continue its efforts by planting native species around the lake, she said. The lake’s vegetation has consistently received a poor grade primarily due to its lack of diversity, according to Friends of Diamond Lake board member Dave Oltmans.

That’s not to say there haven’t been successes. People who monitor the lake’s water quality are starting to see more invertebrates, an indicator of cleaner water, said Martini, who’s a biologist by training. They’re also beginning to see muskrats and species of snails and flies that need clean water.

“It’s going to be a long journey to really make big impacts,” Martini said, “but here and there we’re starting to see some hopeful signs.”

It’s a journey that’s been nearly 10 years in the making. In 2008, a group of neighbors was invited by the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District to write a lake-management plan. The residents learned about the lake’s ecology and how to connect with their neighbors, Martini said.

In 2009, the newly formed Friends of Diamond Lake hosted a meeting of several community groups in the watershed. People made it clear that they wanted to take evidence-based action to improve the lake’s condition, Martini said.

Diamond Lake for years had seen deteriorating water quality in part because of runoff from Interstate 35W, fertilizer runoff and stormwater runoff.

Diamond Lake Watershed resident Tina Ham Peterson smiles next to an instillation in her yard. Ham Peterson was a block captain for the recent Blooming Alleys for Clean Water project.
Diamond Lake Watershed resident Tina Ham Peterson smiles next to an instillation in her yard. Ham Peterson was a block captain for the recent Blooming Alleys for Clean Water project.

The 55-acre lake is shallow, with an average depth of 3.2 feet, which makes it prime for algae growth, board member Erin Surdo said at the Friends of Diamond Lake annual meeting last month. That algae growth leads to low oxygen concentrations and decreased visibility, she said.

Volunteers began monitoring the lake’s water quality in 2008 and have began noticing trends over the years, such as increased diversity of invertebrates, Oltmans said. He added that the muskrats have also improved the lake.

Oltmans and Martini are two of four board members who have been with Friends of Diamond Lake since the organization’s inception. The group is composed of longtime residents, all of whom have tried to balance the potentially divergent interests of preserving wildlife and allowing people to enjoy the lake.

They’ve tried to work with officials whenever possible, said board member Stu Goldstein, adding that the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, which manages the lake, has become more aware of ecology in recent years. The group has focused on preserving the habitat, he said, noting that people connect with that more than just water quality.

Friends of Diamond Lake board member Dave Oltmans shows off his driveway built of permeable pavers and his rain gardens.
Friends of Diamond Lake board member Dave Oltmans shows off his driveway built of permeable pavers and his rain gardens.

The group has a diverse background, Oltmans pointed out. Goldstein has a doctorate in biophysics, while member Larry Jeutter, an engineer, used his background to create a phone app to monitor frog calls. Other members have experience with public health, gardening and the history of the community.

“We don’t make a lot of noise, but we’re persistent,” Oltmans said.

The group honored participants in the Blooming Alleys for Clean Water project at its annual meeting, presenting awards to students from Folwell Middle School, Metro Blooms, the watershed district and others. Government officials in attendance encouraged the group to keep seeking funding for projects such as these.

“Now we’re doing a lot of these projects,” said Telly Mamayek, director of communications and education for the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District. “It all started here at Diamond Lake, because of committed residents like you.”

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