Pilot Guest Editorial

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Dredging job isn't done yet for Storm Lake

The Matteson Company's dredge, the "L.W.," is a stable platform even when Storm Lake is choppy.

As a mid-summer thunderstorm was brewing in the distance, my wife, Ann, and I were touring the "L.W." under the guidance and watchful eye of its captain, L.W. Parker.

Despite the buffeting of the wind and waves, the "L.W." and its crew stayed on their course of removing mud from the bottom of Storm Lake.

It is no secret that Storm Lake's tempestuous ways can be a challenge to even experienced boaters, but Captain Parker and his crew seemed to relish nature's challenges.

Captain Parker and his family reside in Biloxi, Mississippi, but he has traveled extensively during his career on the water. In addition to operating dredges throughout the United States river and intracoastal water systems, he has also dredged portions of the Orinoco River in Venezuela and has dredged on the Pacific coast. He is also a towboat pilot who is licensed for U.S. inland rivers, Great Lakes and up to 200 miles off shore.

Before settlers arrived in the mid-1800s, much of northern Iowa was dotted with marshes and shallow prairie lakes. After 150 years of draining these lakes and marshes, relatively few of Iowa's natural lakes remain.

Early accounts and maps suggest that Powell "Creek" is actually a drainage ditch which developed to channel water drained from the watershed in the past, and that the "outlet" most likely was located in a then marshy area north of the present outlet in what is now the city of Lakeside. It is likely the elevation of the dam at the present outlet was established in the early 1900s as a compromise which resulted in draining surrounding wetlands and lowering the more or less permanent pool of the lake.

According to the Report on Soundings and Borings directed to M.L. Hutton for Project #1045 concerning Storm Lake, the following conditions were observed as of January and February 1935:

1. The city of Storm Lake acquired its water supply from the lake by drawing about 50 million cubic feet of water per year from the lake.

2. The city of Storm Lake discharged effluent from its sewage treatment plant into the lake.

3. "A total of 48 borings and over 1,100 soundings taken from January 1 to February 28 ... showed an average depth of silt of 7.3 feet." Calculations made on the elevation of the silt indicated that since 1916 a foot of additional silt was being deposited on the lake bottom about every 25 years.

As reported by Malcolm K. Johnson in Volume 20 of the Iowa Conservationist for August 1961, the state was embarking on a 16-year task which would involve removing six feet of silt from the bottom of the 3,000-plus acre lake.

The dredging of silt from Storm Lake which began in 1939-1940, continued in the 1960s, and most recently resumed in the summer of 2002, has certainly yielded significant benefits. By lowering the lake bottom through dredging, we will increase volume and provide watertable related stability of depth.

Captain Parker and his crew have moved the dredge, "L.W.," to another job at a different location, and it is now our turn to man the oars.

Let us all support the new lake partnership (cities of Storm Lake and Lakeside, Buena Vista County, the LPA and DNR) in the continuation of a very worthwhile project.

Steven T. Roth, a Storm Lake attorney, is a longtime member of the Lake Preservation Association and the former president of that environmental group.