Excitement grows for lake effort, local dredge becomes focus for future.
Among the leaders of the Lake Preservation Association, patience is the ultimate virtue. After years of awareness efforts, local government has come on board in the past few weeks in high-impact ways, and public sentiment in the community seems clearly behind their call for water quality.
"As we speak, I'm sitting here with a grin," said Steve Roth, longtime chairman of the environmental volunteer group. "People should know how much we appreciate the heightened sense of interest, and we hope that only increases as spring and summer approach."
And in the back of the minds of those lake-lovers rests a dredge - a locally-owned and operated dredge to continue the deepening work on Storm Lake as long as it is needed.
"Getting a local dredge is the most feasible route, I think. Local involvement seems to result in more bang for the buck," Roth said.
At Five Island Lake near Emmetsburg, a dredge plus work boats and water-return piping was obtained for around $300,000-$400,000. "I was surprised that the cost wasn't higher than it is," Roth said.
Meanwhile, with momentum finally steaming on a Storm Lake project, he said that LPA leaders "couldn't be more pleased."
"This is exactly what we had hoped would develop. I think the local partnerships we are seeing emerge ensure a great future for this natural resource."
The successes have been long-awaited and crucial, Roth said, as the city and county have both contributed heavily to the cause for the first time. The Storm Lake City Council in mid-December agreed to purchase an additional 160-acres of spoil site land east of the golf course to allow for additional future dredging, and the Buena Vista County Supervisors noted the importance of the lake as an attraction as they conditionally pledged $125,000 toward future lake preservation efforts this month.
For several years, the LPA has led the call to dredge Storm Lake. After fits and starts, it finally appears that a multi-million-dollar Department of Natural Resources project to do just that will begin next spring.
But the LPA isn't stopping there, and will redouble its efforts to make sure that the dredging is expanded to a greater area of the lake. Roth said it is still possible to achieve that in time to pick up the work immediately when the state contractor dredge pulls out next season.
"Our goal has always been to get half the lake area dredged, but any significant portion that can be dredged would help in terms of water quality," Roth said this week.
Currently, the Lake Preservation Association is working to develop a long-term plan for the lake, following the personal suggestions of DNR Director Jeff Vonk.
First, the group will review the history of the lake and watershed improvement studies, monitoring and projects, including the landmark diagnostic study of the Storm Lake Restoration done by the DNR in 1994.
That study showed that Storm Lake was among the state's worst in terms of turbidity, or suspended solids in the water. If no dredging were done, the lake would "be at great risk of losing its fishery because of winterkills," and "recreational activities such as swimming will continue to be hampered."
That study found that a limited dredging similar to what is planned for next season would be short-term, and not extensive enough to make a major visible change in water quality throughout the lake. However, the study found, it could cost as much as $53 million to dredge enough of the lake to increase mean depth from 2.4 meters to 4 meters, which could give the lake a similar water quality to West Lake Okoboji, it said.
Preparing the plan and a history of the lake will be essential to show both a local involvement in the lake's future and to provide the data that government and environmental grant programs might require to consider funding.
Such study will also pay dividends as the LPA continues to work in the watershed, Roth feels. "Once dredging starts, we will need to have taken the steps to assure that the water quality gains that result are not allowed to diminish over time."
The plan should be finished next month, Roth said.
Even if the effort does go local, the LPA plans to work closely with the DNR. "The DNR has been very encouraging to us, and I fully believe the DNR is behind any efforts that we make to improve the status of the water quality. Now, what we need is something to show the legislature, foundations and grant sources," Roth added.
While the locals have not ruled out federal funding sources such as the Environmental Protection Agency, there appears to be "nothing firm there" to draw on in terms of resources, Roth said. "I think that as we progress and actually get into the physical portion of the dredging process, with both the city and the county now participating, we will have improved chances to seek funding from other sources.
"At any level, the quality and extent of the community's local interest is paramount," Roth said, noting that the LPA is working on strategies and fundraising ideas to get individuals more involved in the lake effort.
"Dredging itself isn't complicated. Like painting, it takes longer to set up than it does to do. But the results can be immediate and profound," he said.
LPA and DNR officials agree that if the locals can find a way to continue dredging after the state project next spring, it should continue progressively from the west end of the lake. "Personally, I'd like to see a dredge get all the way to Lakeside," Roth said.
With interest peaking on the lake, the LPA hopes to move up its annual meeting to March or April, has several committees working hard toward future efforts, and is welcoming new members.