Port Louisa.

The Corps of Engineers hosted a ribbon cutting today for a $23 million rehabilitation project at Lake Odessa in southeast Iowa’s Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge near Wapello.

 Marvin Hubbell manages the Corps’ program which restored more than 6,500 acres of habitat. He says it balances the needs of wildlife and navigation.

“We feel like we’ve successfully done that for sure for the last 30 years and it lays the foundation for the future,” Hubbell says. “For me, that’s a very exciting opportunity to be a part of something that is working in harmony to maintain our navigation and our ecosystem.”

Dozens of separate projects at Lake Odessa include levee repairs, new spillways, hardwood tree plantings and helping fish survive the winter. The overall purpose is to provide migrating birds with more high-protein food. Hubbell says egrets, geese, herons, pelicans and other waterfowl need insects and their eggs as fuel to complete their migration. Most people couldn’t spot the changes that have been made at the refuge.

“The features ultimately blend in with the natural landscape,” Hubbell says. “There are improvements to the levee itself which are visible and the spillways allow the water to come in and get out without eroding the levee. They’re probably the most visibile features, but there’s also an outlet structure the Fish & Wildlife Service has to manage water levels there and that’s very visible.”

The outlet he mentions fills areas of Lake Odessa from the bottom up. That slows down floodwaters and prevents erosion. Hubbell says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Iowa DNR will use the improvements to manage this part of the wildlife refuge.

(Reporting by Michelle O’Neill, WVIK, Rock Island)