New DNR leader will take Storm Lake success story back to legislature
Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Richard Leopold got a first-hand look at the work being done in the Storm Lake watershed, and said he will be excited to tell other state leaders about what he has seen.
"This was my first time in Storm Lake," said Leopold, who was the invited guest for the Lake Preservation Association. "It was great to be able to see the dredge and the spoil site and even touring the watershed."
Leopold was taken on the dredge for a rare opportunity to see the machine running.
"I have seen a dredge before but I've never been on while it was running," he said. "It was neat to see how everything worked together."
Leopold reflected that "the DNR is not into lake dredging as it once was, and it's great to see communities like Storm Lake get behind a project to improve water quality for their own lake."
The LPA held its annual picnic and meeting. Leopold was impressed with the involvement on behalf of the lake.
Since the end of the legislative session, the first-year director has been able to tour areas of the state more. "I'm able to go and give facts and figures but now I have these stories that I'm able to take back and tell legislators and get them even more interested," Leopold said. "The game plan is to help secure more funds for the natural resources."
Leopold hopes to be able to convey that the DNR is not just about fishing and wildlife, but issues like water quality, which Storm Lake is illustrating can have a direct impact with quality of life, other development, tourism and the economy.
"We are working closely with some people at the Department of Economics to be able to show the trends and socio-economic impact in areas that have good water quality or have improved their water quality," Leopold said. "If we can show that $2 million to improve a watershed helps the community be earn $20 million in tourism dollars then I think that is an investment worth doing."
The words were welcome news to the Storm Lakers, who are sratching for funds to continue perhaps another decade of dredging in order to fulfill a goal of deepening half the lake's area.
Leopold's predecessor, Jeff Vonk, had proven to be a steadfast supporter of the dredging, and is credited by many with the original idea of a Project Awaysis-type destination park lakefront development to capitalize on the environmental effort.
When newely-elected Governor Chet Culver chose not to retain Vonk, there was some concern locally about what direction the DNR might take.
Leopold had been the executive director of the Iowa Environmental Council, the nonprofit coalition made up of 76 organizations working to improve Iowa's natural environment. He had held a variety of biologist, naturalist, and administrative positions within the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the Minnesota and Iowa Department of Natural Resources. He is also a strong proponent of water quality.
From 1999-2002, Leopold served as the coordinator for IOWATER, Iowa's statewide volunteer water-quality monitoring program.
He was pleased with the King's Pointe development during his Storm Lake visit.
"I saw it briefly and I'm excited to come back and see it again," Leopold said. "It's great to see the impact that this project has had on the lake, cleaning up the banks and such."
During his speech, Leopold add how much the environmental involvement has changed for Iowans.
"I heard someone here use a high tech term, compared to when I started and it was 'Dam it or Drain it.' It's great to see how far we have come," Leopold said.
"Before the DNR use to come in and fix something and then would 25 years later fix it again. We can't do that right now, and it's great to see communities taking a step up and helping projects."
LPA President Gary Lalone was excited to have the DNR Director visit Storm Lake.
"It was an awesome day," Lalone said. "We were able to show him around and be able to get some of his insight and ideas on how to improve the watershed as well."
Lalone said the LPA especially hopes to utilize some of th DNR director's advice on getting more conservation projects started in cooperatation with the landowners in the watershed.
"We've had some people who have been great stewards and others that have not," Lalone said. "We hope to be able to work with them and get them involved with a program that suites them."
Storm Lake City Administrator Patti Moore met with the director for a brief period during his visit.
"It was great to hear how supportive he was of the dredging project and King's Pointe," Moore said. "He said he would like to come back, and we'll be waiting for his next visit."