THE PILOT EDITORIAL - Getting to brass tacks on dredging

Tuesday, December 4, 2001

After many years of local discussion about dredging Storm Lake, including the roughly five years needed to bring the state dredging plan to fruition, it seems Storm Lake is finally ready to cut to the chase. We can only hope it isn't too late to get started.

The state's bid-let dredge is due in early in the spring, and could leave about 90 days later. So that window of opportunity is likely to close quickly, and once the dredge is gone, there's little chance that the state is going to bring it back any time soon. The size of the state project, while still impressive, is such that little will be achieved except a deeper pothole area for fish to winter - at least that is the case if it stops there.

Had we been working for those five years to obtain additional spoil site land and stirring the public toward responsibility for the lake, we might be in a different position today. As it is, we are just getting started.

The volunteers of the Lake Preservation Association seem to be the only ones with the guts to say that we need to do something, even if it should cost money.

The county government seemed almost surprised that it should be asked to play a role. The city government hasn't voluntarily said a word, despite at least one campaign promise going back quite some time. The university sits on prime lakefront real estate and is excited about environmental science, but has not yet been heard on this issue. And how about the city's biggest industry, which has over the years caused several accidental dumpings into the lake, and could now step forward and do something to preserve it?

Some of the stronger voices in the LPA have had the nerve to step beyond the years of general talk about how the lake is a treasure, and finally put some direction to it.

They are bold options, but not science fiction:

1. Buy a dredge as a community, and take charge of ongoing efforts to deepen the lake and improve water quality.

2. Continual dredging until half the lake area has been done, which would take years and cost up to $40 million.

3. Back up dredging with environmental work through the watershed to slow the future flow of silt and pollutants into the water.

It's a huge job. As things stand now, the state isn't about to pay for it, and that's more than the community can pony up even if unified on the issue.

One of the best hopes seem to be to massage the state's Vision Iowa program to consider an environmental project as a cultural benefit to the state, rather than just building tourist attractions in Iowa's gambling cities.

The other would be pleading with the feds to finally wake up and put the funding back in the national Clean Lakes program. Robbing that fund has been one of the most foolish of the government's misuses of authority. The law is there, the program is there, the infrastructure and expertise is ready to be put to use, but first the politicians have to allocate the funds to make it more than empty words.

So, if we hope to get close to the ambitious goals the LPA is outlining, we may have to change the trees we are barking up. All the letters in the world to the DNR are not going to get it done.

We have lost a lot of precious time. City, county and state leaders should stop looking the other way and get on board with the LPA. There will need to be a local commitment, and a more formal plan of needs and impact. And then, a whole community going to work.