About 2.8 million cubic yards of dredge material has been pulled from the lakebed since the state initiated the current era of dredging in 2002, followed by additional years of effort undertaken by the community and county.
The improvements to Storm Lake water quality have already been significant, according to Gary Lalone, who chairs the Lake Improvement Commission.
With water now ranging up to 18-20 feet in depth where it was only eight feet or so before, the lake is now able to better cleanse itself, reestablishing its original ecology. Historically, perpetual winds lashing Storm Lake have continued to suspend silt and make the waters turbid. However, in not too long a time and with continued dredging, depth of water clarity is expected to markedly improve.
The former Wetherell spoil site on the southwest side of Storm Lake is filled. Now, rye grows where dredge material was dumped less than a year before.
The same goes for the new site completed last fall. "I wouldn't rule out anything" for uses for the east spoil site across a county road from the Storm Lake Municipal Golf Course, Lalone said. Housing, something of which Storm Lake is in short supply, is a definite option.
The next stage for Storm Lake cleanup is to add a booster pump to help remove sludge from a longer distance. The further one goes out into the lake to remove bottom material, the more power is needed, says Lalone. With its new spoil site on the northeast side of the lake, dredging should be good for another four to six years before another site would need to be added.
"There's a pretty good argument that it's gotten a lot better," Lalone said of Storm Lake's water quality. That's an observation to which fishermen readily attest, says Lalone.
While Storm Lake has made a great name for itself as a fishing lake, Lalone said in the future the lake will likely gain a name for itself as a sailing and swimming lake as well, particularly with new beach improvements coming with project AWAYSIS and the upgrades at the Casino Beach Marina. Storm Lake's new logo, Jump Right In, couldn't be more appropriate.
"You're going to have the full water quality experience," Lalone said. "The opportunities are going to be such that we've never seen before. We have the only state marina and that is currently under a redo. From an economic development point of view, I think we're already seeing things starting to happen."
There are a lot of partners that deserve credit for improving the water quality in Storm Lake.
A partial list includes the Iowa Department of Natural Resources which initially paid a dredging company from Burlington to do the initial dredging in 2002. While that was happening, there was a fast and furious effort to raise money to buy the dredge. Buena Vista County kicked in a commitment of up to $600,000 toward the dredge and the City of Storm Lake contributed land and pipe totaling another $600,000.
The City of Storm Lake continues to contribute almost $100,000 a year from its hotel/motel tax. The city also pays for the dredging crew. There was $850,000 raised privately, plus substantial contributions from the City of Lakeside's sales tax receipts.
Lalone pulls out a series of 1935 photos of Storm Lake. There is Storm Lake, obviously. But to the west there is something rather surprising. There is another lake.
Little Storm Lake in 1935 looked very much like another lake in its own right, quite similar to her bigger sister. Gone are the reeds and cattails and other vegetation indicative of Little Storm Lake's current role as a "feeder lake" or filter for the larger lake. Little Storm Lake back then was much deeper and clearer.
One windy day last summer, Lalone stood where Powell Creek empties into Little Storm Lake. "It was as clear as a bell," Lalone said. On the other side of Little Storm Lake, though, where the smaller lake emptied into Storm Lake, the waters of Little Storm Lake were turbid. "We think there's a problem there with Little Storm Lake," Lalone said.
The Army Corps of Engineers has dredging of Little Storm Lake on its list of possibilities. However, action for improving water quality for the smaller lake is apparently on hold as the Corps continues to grapple with problems resulting from Hurricane Katrina. One thing is for certain, though. Little Storm Lake is most certainly going to get the same amount of attention that Storm Lake has itself received in improving its water quality and making a better quality of life for residents and Buena Vista County and, with Project AWAYSIS, far beyond.