—by Todd Thorson, with contributions from Jane Todey
Residents and "Friends of Little Wall Lake" south of Jewell, including area citizens from Story City and other surrounding communities, have been trying for nearly two years to have the water level raised at the popular Hamilton County lake. But the Department of Natural Resources has taken no action on the request, and it appears any future requests may also be denied. A group of lake residents, including Jane Todey and Jeff Knutson, have been diligently working hard to get the DNR to raise the water level, but to no avail. Now, desperation time is beginning to set in, as the lake is reaching a critical water level stage.
On Thursday afternoon, August 29, in Jewell, Todey and various lake residents, along with representatives from the DNR, met for the second time (the first meeting was back in May) after repeated requests from the local residents to increase the water level at the lake were denied. What follows is Todey’s account of that meeting, as well as other important background information concerning the issue:
When water levels dropped severely last year due to drought conditions, permits were requested to use the same pumping system as was used in 2004 to restore water levels after the $2.1 million dredging project left the lake unusable in 2002. Local residents initiated a "Friends of Little Wall Lake" nonprofit organization to collect donations to pay expenses for running the pump and partnered with Prairie Rivers of Iowa to secure a grant from the Enhance Hamilton County Foundation. Preparations were made to pump 90 days to raise water levels because residents were told that "as soon as there is adequate water in the river the department plans on pumping water in."
Shortly after the Friends of Little Wall Lake raised money and received their grant, DNR Director Chuck Gipp denied permission and initiated a working group to see what else could be done. (The official denial letter is available at: http://todey2739.wix.com/friendsoflittlewall.)
No decisions have been reached by this group, nor has a management plan been suggested. Russ Teig asked the group if a temporary permit could be issued and received no answer. Dave Young suggested that the DNR should listen to the public, since 750 names were presented on petitions asking that the DNR increase the water level. Scott Grummers (DNR Fisheries) suggested that the best thing to do is instigate a complete fish kill and let the lake dry down, further suggesting that water quality will improve under "natural conditions". When Mick Walker asked about the public interest in using the lake for recreation, Grummers replied that perhaps the public has "unrealistic goals". Maurice Wilcox explained that he wished he had leased the land for the containment instead of selling it, since it has not been maintained and "looks terrible". Josh Gansen, who manages the containment, explained that he is responsible for 40,000 acres and can’t spend three or four months here to work on it, nor does he have the budget to do so.
Mike McGhee (DNR) suggested that engineers be contacted to determine how new wetlands could be built to allow increased water flow into the lake so that water quality could be maintained and higher levels can be supported. Mary Skopec, DNR water quality specialist, also proposed alternative water sources.
Martin Konrad, DNR group organizer, will schedule a third meeting for this group sometime later this fall, as there appears to be no sense of urgency on the part of the DNR to deal with issues at the lake.
Local residents at the meeting included County Supervisor Dave Young, Jewell Mayor Mick Walker, Jeff Knutson, Maurice Wilcox, Russ Teig, Brian Holt, Nile Cottington, Jane Todey and Dave Struchen. Brian Lammers from Hamilton County Conservation was also present, but no conservation board members attended. Anyone wishing to express their concerns are encouraged to contact Martin Konrad at 515-281-6976 or Director Chuck Gipp at 515-281-8650 to express opinions and concerns. Those with "unrealistic goals" for higher lake levels can contact Scott Grummers at 641-425-5467 or your state representatives and Governor, since the $2.1 million dredging project (to create recreation and promote economic development) was paid for by Iowa taxpayers.
"The result of this meeting was very disappointing," said Todey, following the August 29 meeting with DNR officials. "I understand that the DNR is in a different position from six years ago when we first pumped because of federal/state water quality standards. But I’ve also been told by DNR staff that others in the DNR are applying some of these requirements inappropriately to this situation. My frustration is that I could see this group meeting for the next year and not accomplishing anything. There are only two in the group that seem to have anything positive to propose. And the rest of the story is that I don’t think they’d even be talking about Little Wall Lake if Jeff (Knutson) and I hadn’t been a thorn in their side for the past year and a half."