Hiring out dredging

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Posted July 24, 2015

Storm Lake’s tremendous dredging program would not be as far along as it is were it not for the locally organized work crew and infrastructure. As we have noted before, City Infrastructure Director Pat Kelly volunteered to ramrod the operation and the city council agreed. That pledge led to the creation of the Lake Improvement Commission, an authority formed by Storm Lake, Buena Vista County, Lakeside and the Lake Preservation Association with advisory support from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. It is an exemplar in Iowa for inter-governmental cooperation.

Time has come to bring in an outside dredge company to finish the job.

Kelly is retiring. It is better to let his replacement figure out the municipal operations and local landscape without having to worry about dredging. It has been difficult to find help for what can be a tough, unsavory job in spring and fall. The worker shortage has limited pumping, which is the whole point of the enterprise.

The operation was organized locally at first because we could do it a lot cheaper than the contractor. That was attractive to the state that was largely funding it. Now it sounds as if Dredge America can do it as cheaply as the local effort has.

Commission Administrator Jim Patrick will negotiate a contract with Dredge America to take over. Patrick says it is possible that the company might buy the dredge, which was originally purchased by the county and rebuilt over the years. It sounds like a solid exit strategy. It is estimated that the existing dredge spoil site has only two or three years’ worth of capacity left.

Our community’s thanks goes to IDNR for helping to make these arrangements.

A consensus is emerging that greater water clarity is changing the times when walleyes bite. This year, water clarity has been remarkable. It allows light to penetrate, and walleyes don’t like light. When the lake is turbid with suspended sediment — that familiar muddy look — walleyes don’t know what time it is and will bite. So when the lake is turbid the working man can catch a fish at Saturday noon. When it is clear he has to be up before the roosters and after the bar owls.

A clearer, cleaner lake already is having an impact on aquatic life.

It could get a lot clearer.

The Lake Improvement Commission engaged an aquatics engineering firm to study how the water could be further clarified when dredging is complete. The firm, Fyra, of Omaha, Neb., is looking at adding islands to the three already in the lake (which we think Nature eventually will shred). These scientists, one a biologist and the other a geologist engineer, also believe that adding ammonium sulfate to the lake would sink sediment to the bottom and cap it there. It could make the water perfectly clear in a matter of hours. The idea fascinates us, but draws skepticism from anglers with whom we speak. They think it might harm aquatic life. The chemical is added to almost all municipal drinking water systems. And, if the fish and mussels could survive the pollution we already have dumped into the lake, a dose of ammonium sulfate hardly could be worse.

Clearer water will increase vegetation in the lake, which is good for aquatic life but bad for boat motors. At Black Hawk Lake, water clarity has led IDNR to “mow” the weeds with a chopper to keep them in check. It is a problem that can be managed.

The lake is changing, for the better. It will take adjustments for those of us used to the Old Muddy look.