Green digest

Illegal sewer connection possible source of substance found in Lake Calhoun

While investigating reports in April of an unknown milky white substance seeping into Lake Calhoun, Minneapolis Public Works inspectors discovered an illegal, undocumented storm sewer connection to a swimming pool at the nearby Minikahda Club. That connection is now viewed as the probable origin of the substance.

Pools aren’t allowed to drain into storms sewers, said Bradley Blackhawk, chief inspector for utility connections. In this case, he said the city didn’t even know the connection existed.

“That piece of sewer, we didn’t know when it was handed over or when it was put in,” Blackhawk said.

Undiscovered connections are nothing new to the city, he said. The city hasn’t always owned all of its sewer lines, and older connections weren’t always marked down. Every once in awhile, unknown lines are stumbled upon.

“There’s more out there,” Blackhawk said.

Jim Jennings, general manager of the Minikahda Club, said its connection to the storm sewer was installed in 1935 and that he’s known of its existence for more than 20 years. “We’ve never had any real problems,” he said.

Jennings said water that drained from the club’s pool always had the chlorine burned out of it beforehand.

But pool water is pool water, Blackhawk said, and any connections that drain it into storm sewers are illegal — “especially those that go into lakes,” he said. All pool water should end up in the sanitary system, he said.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has been investigating the substance and its source since receiving a tip from a private citizen on April 29, the same day Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board workers and commissioners reported a stream of phone calls about the substance.

MPCA spokesman Sam Brungardt said that because the investigation is ongoing, he couldn’t comment. However, he said his “guess” is that the Minikahda Club will be fined.

“It certainly is not supposed to be done,” Brungardt said when asked about pool water being drained into Lake Calhoun.

City spokesman Matt Laible said the city also is exploring possible actions.

Brungardt said he expected it would take another slew of weeks before the MPCA has its investigation finished, largely because of how thorough the organization must be. He could not say whether the MPCA knows what the substance was.

A Minnesota Monitor story on the sewer connection cited an e-mail from Rhonda Rae, director of surface water and sewers for the city’s Public Works Department, that said it appeared the Minikahda Club may have been sandblasting the pool around the time the substance was found in Lake Calhoun.

But Steve Kennedy, a city environmental inspector who went to the club shortly after the substance was reported, said that wasn’t his impression.

“I didn’t see remains from a sandblasting operation,” Kennedy said. “I did see remains from a power cleaning.”

Jennings said the material could have been dirt and debris from the pool. “Worst case scenario,” he said, “there might have been a few paint chips in there, but not a significant amount.”

Jennings said the Minikahda Club has since redirected its drains to the sanitary system, upon the city’s request.

Minneapolis’ outdoors is seventh best

Of the 40 largest cities that provide outdoor recreation opportunities, Minneapolis ranks seventh, according to Forbes magazine’s latest list of America’s Best Cities for the Outdoors.

Even the city’s harsh, cold winters couldn’t knock it out of the top 10. Temperatures were taken into account, but so were parks spending per resident, park land as a percentage of city land, recreation facilities, air quality, precipitation and sunshine.

A Forbes article accompanying the list said Minneapolis ranked high because 15 percent of the city’s land is devoted to parks. That’s almost 5 percent more than the average for cities on the list.

San Francisco took the top spot. Detroit was last.

Go to forbes.com for the complete list.

Linden Hills compost program to start … soon

With the governor’s approval on May 23, the long-awaited Linden Hills compost pilot program has become a reality.

Well, almost.

Bins won’t be arriving until the end of the month or the beginning of July.

It’s been more than six months since the City Council approved the program, which will bring green bins to Linden Hills residents’ doorsteps for compost recycling. The holdup had been a law that didn’t allow Source Separated Organics — think pizza boxes, paper towels and other biodegradables — and yard waste to be paired.

But within a week of the legislative session’s conclusion, Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed into law a bill that essentially wiped out the rule.

“It allows us an environmentally good thing cost-effectively,” said Susan Young, the director of the city’s Solid Waste and Recycling division who has spearheaded the project.

For more information, go to www.lhpowerandlight.org.