Lake Wingra Springs Threatened by Two Construction Projects

Madison, Dec. 9, 2011—You may have seen the current office building/apartment constructions at Parman Place, and a new apartment building going up behind Jac’s Restaurant, both on Monroe Street.  Both projects are good examples of urban infill (instead of suburban sprawl) and will be welcome commercial and residential additions to the near west side.   But, did you know that both projects are likely to have long-term and perhaps irreparable negative impacts to the the natural springs and groundwater hydrology of the Lake Wingra watershed (FOLW)This is because excavations for both projects have hit large ground water veins, possibly disrupting natural spring flow to Lake Wingra and the wetlands that surround it.

Project Backgrounds

Little is known about the construction project behind Jac’s Restaurant but it is reportedly to be called Wingra Shores Apartments and is a project of  J. Michael Real Estate.

The Parman Place project however, has been covered extensively in local media and blog posts.  For an excellent description (including the Q & A session) of the public meeting to introduce the project, see David Thompson’s blog post here

Parman Place construction site on 11.30.11. Photo copyrighted by Stephen B. Glass.

For other background stories about the Parman Place project see these links:

The Cap Times online

State Journal online

For detailed site and erosion control plans see the .pdf’s below:

Wingra Shores erosion control plan 2607 Monroe-2628 Arbor

Parman Place erosion control plan 3402_3502 Monroe

Unexpected? Negative Impacts

The Parman Place project (3502 Monroe St./728 Glenway) is pumping groundwater flow (known as “de-watering” the site) into the sanitary sewer because the site is contaminated by residue from petroleum products that leaked from underground storage tanks when the gasoline station was active.   According to Timothy Troester, City engineer in charge,

“Dewatering here of ground water is being done under a permit to pump to the sanitary due to contamination.  That permit is issued from our Operations section.  Once contamination levels have fallen to allow discharge to the storm sewer then the permit would be through the Health Department for non-stormwater discharge.”

The neighborhood was not aware that groundwater would be hit during excavation for Parman Place, and the topic of the project’s impact on natural springs  did not come up during the public meeting, either from the City of Madison, Alder Solomon, the developers or from the over 100 people in attendance at the March 17 meeting at Edgewood College.  People were concerned about possible impacts on Lake Wingra from construction site erosion.

At 2612 Arbor Drive, sediment collects at the storm drain.  Sediment is from unfiltered  ground water flow pumped off the construction site at 3371 Monroe St. on Dec. 1, 2011.  Photo copyrighted by Stephen B. Glass

The Wingra Shores apartment project has hit a larger groundwater spring and is pumping ground water directly into the  drain from a point well.  According to Timothy Troester of the City of Madison Engineering Department,  “dewatering of ground water by point wells at 2607 Monroe St. is a WDNR permit under NR 812 that, in most cases is the responsibility of the contractor.”

Flickr photos and a video of the Fisher Construction project site at 2607 Monroe St.  

Both sites have permits from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources .  Although, the question is:  why were building  permits for new construction in a known groundwater discharge zone, issued in the first place?

Both site are expected to have to pump groundwater off site on a continuous basis in perpetuity.  The possibility of continuous pumping raises numerous ecological and hydrological issues for the watershed, the lake itself and the wetlands that surround it.   How will the construction projects affect existing groundwater flow rates and flow patterns?  How will the construction projects affect the existing springs along Monroe Street at the Duck Pond, or the Council Spring complex at Arbor Drive, for example?  Will flow rates increase? Decrease?  Will there be no impact?

Council Spring, near Arbor Drive and Monroe Street in Madison, Wisconsin as it appeared on Dec. 7, 2011. Photo copyrighted by Stephen B. Glass.

Scientists who study groundwater resources don’t know with certainty the groundwater flow path in the Lake Wingra watershed but Ken Bradbury, with the Geological and Natural History Survey suspects that the Parman’s construction might disrupt the flow to the nearby (about 1,200 feet distant) Council Spring (photo above) and its neighboring spring, Dancing Sands Spring, just off Arbor Drive in the Arboretum.

For more information about the Wingra springs see The Springs, in this blog.

Other impacts at both sites have been noted by David Thompson  who reports that excess cement mix and concrete have been dumped in the construction holes at both sites. Thompson has also noted that equipment has tracked soil into Arbor Drive.  This blogger has seen similar at the Parman Place site.  See more of David Thompson’s photos of these two projects.

Thompson notes that  soil tracked into the street (besides the obvious loss of a natural resource) creates two problems:  airborne dust that contributes to respiratory ailments, and sediment that flows into Lake Wingra through the storm sewer, filling up the already naturally-shallow lake.  Soil contains phosphorus and nitrogen with are known to contribute to Lake Wingra’s algae problems and growth of aquatic weeds.   Sending unfiltered groundwater into the storm sewer may a violation of the projects’ erosion control permits and plans (provide links here Parman’s and Wingra Shores erosion control plans.)  Timothy H. Troester,   Engineer III with the City of Madison Department of Engineering is the city official in charge of the project


Q:  Why was either project granted a permit to excavate in a known ground water discharge area?

Lake Wingra used to receive the majority of it’s water from spring flow and direct precipitation, and very little from storm water runoff; now it receives only about 35% of its water budget from groundwater, 34% from storm water runoff and 31% from direct precipitation.  (Data from Friends of Lake Wingra : a vision for the future, p 17, FOLW)

Since European settlement of the Madison area about 22 of more than 30 springs have been lost to construction and other human activities that have disrupted ground water flow.  Why continue the disruption of one of Madison’s greatest natural resources?

Q:  Why was an excavation permit granted at Parman when it is known to have soils contaminated by petroleum from leaky gas tanks?

Q:  Why run the risk of potentially exposing ground water veins to contaminants that will flow to Lake Wingra?

Q:  If the ground water must be pumped off site, why must it be sent into the storm sewer?  Why not, as David Thompson has suggested–at least at Arbor Drive–run a hose across Arbor Drive, over to Wingra Park and let the water infiltrate back to groundwater.

Or, as David Thompson has also suggested–at least at Parman Place–why not create a rain garden or some other amenity that will at least do as little harm as possible, and maybe even some good?

Business As Usual?

Everyone involved in these projects has the best interests of the community and the watershed at heart, and none mean to cause any harm to the Lake, but I wonder if a “business as usual” attitude  hasn’t overtaken our natural caution and concern for the environment and led us to be a little too blasé.   I wonder if public and private Madison would be better served if we started thinking a little more creatively of ways of conserving and restoring our wonderful natural resources and, at the same time,  achieving our social and cultural goals.

About Steve Glass

The blogger is a restoration ecologist, Certified Ecological Restoration Practitioner (#0093 SER) and writer living in the Midwestern United States.
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