The City of Falcon Heights recently received a 2015 Watershed Steward Award for its efforts to mitigate flooding in Curtiss Field park.
The recognition came from the Capitol Region Watershed District, which also collaborated on the work in the park, located southeast of the intersection of Larpenteur and Snelling avenues.
“It was truly an honor to be named Partner of the Year by the Watershed District,” said Falcon Heights Mayor Peter Lindstrom. “This was an excellent example of two agencies working well together for the benefit of the public.”
The Watershed District is a unit of local government with the mission of managing and protecting the Mississippi River Basin, as well as the bodies of water within its jurisdiction that drain into it. That includes trying to restore as much of the natural hydrological cycle as possible, getting rainwater into the ground rather than running off.
“There is never an absolute solution to flooding,” said Bob Fossum, engineer with the Watershed District and manager of the Curtiss Field project. “We can’t totally eliminate it, but we can greatly reduce the likelihood, the area of inundation and the duration of the event.”
Curtiss Field gets its name from Curtiss Northwest Airport, the flying field that operated on the site in the 1920s. At that time, the airport’s manager described the field as level, and an aerial photo from 1919 confirms that assessment.
By the 1950s, however, there had been dredging to handle rain runoff as Snelling was widened and residential and commercial development boomed. The lowest area on the site became known as “The Hole,” an informal recreation spot that included a pond that collected storm water. Without an outlet, the pond could lose water only through evaporation or seepage into the ground.
In 1991, a grant from the State of Minnesota was used to create a formal park and enlarge the pond in an effort to deal with the flooding that was becoming increasingly common.
It was the first of several such attempts, none of which were successful. After one particularly heavy storm, two homes on the south side of the park came close to being inundated, a city building in the park was flooded and there was also a safety issue, because the unfenced area remained under water for many hours.
Falcon Heights officials already had worked successfully with the Watershed District and asked for its help again.
A feasibility study was conducted and the solution chosen was installing 390 feet of 10-foot perforated pipe beneath the surface of the parkland. Overflow from the pond and storm water feeds into the pipes and subsequently percolates into the ground. A computerized control system monitors National Weather Service data and, when heavy rain is predicted, lowers the pond level to create more room for storm water.
The main portion of the work was completed in 2014, the remainder in 2015. All told, the project cost about $550,000, with the city contributing about one-third and the Watershed District the rest.
The big question: Does the system work?
“Early last November, we had just under 3 inches of rain in 12 hours,” Fossum said. “Previously the area would have flooded, but it didn’t this time and there was still 3 feet of capacity in the pipes. This was very reassuring.”
To learn more about the Capitol Region Watershed District, go to capitolregionwd.org. For a video on the Falcon Heights installation, go to “Our Work,” scroll down to “Water Resource Improvement Projects,” and then to “Curtiss Pond Improvements.”