The head of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Richard Leopold says the collapse of the Lake Delhi dam has contributed to problems downstream in the Maquoketa River.
Leopold met with editors and reporters from The Des Moines Register Monday and he said the “tragedy” that started with the dam’s collapse continues.
“That lake has reasserted itself as a river and the pollution in that river is atrocious right now,” Leopold said. “So you have, you know, about 70 to 80 years of silt that have built up on this lake-bottom bed that is now, again, a river and all of this silt is cutting away. Downstream from that dam, they’re having to remove untold tons of sediment that’s ending up in their structures and cities and fisheries and everything else.”
Leopold said it may be necessary to plant a “cover” crop of oats or some type of grass that grows “super fast” on what used to be the bottom of the lake, to stop the erosion.
“The D.O.T., you know, they do this when they have road projects and stuff like that, so trying to get some sort of seeding or matting,” Leopold said. “We can do it aerially. It’s a mess, so it’s not like you can get machinery in there and plant it. You’re going to have to fly over it.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced last week it would not provide any money to help rebuild the dam. Lake Delhi property owners plan to appeal that decision, further complicating the process of restoring the area in some fashion — either with a new dam or a spruced-up river corridor. According to Leopold, there’s a debate within the Iowa Department of Natural Resources as to whether it’s better to rebuild the dam or let the river return to its natural state. Leopold said the task force studying the future of Lake Delhi will have to wrestle with that issue.
“For those people that bought, they had lake front homes. They don’t have a lake front home anymore, but, if that’s a river, they probably get a bunch more property, right?” Leopold said. “Depending on where you live and that meander (of the river), you might get some more property ceded to you that is now riverfront property instead of lakefront property, so it’s an entirely different scenario.”
The “mind set” of residents in the area is to restore Lake Delhi, according to Leopold, and Leopold said he respects that, but the “competing value” of the river being a river has to be considered, too.
Leopold has been D.N.R. director since January of 2007. He is exiting the state agency soon to take a job in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Fort Snelling, Minnesota and is scheduled to start there on September 12th.
Leopold’s interview with The Des Moines Register editors and reporters is posted on the paper’s website. The discussion about Lake Delhi starts around minute 27 of the hour-long session.
Photo courtesy of Bob Fisher, KRIB, Mason City