Cedar Lake coming off impaired waters list after 29 years

Advocates say it boosts proposal to transform lake into outdoor attraction

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Lake near downtown is slated to come off the state’s impaired waters list where it has languished since 1986 with a cautionary advisory to limit consumption of some fish caught there due to toxins.

The action, reported Thursday by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, comes at a crucial time for the 115-acre lake as advocacy group Friends of Cedar Lake continues to work to get the city, county and Alliant Energy to embrace a plan to transform what had been an industrial lake into an outdoor attraction.

“This is a big deal,” said Dale Todd, a leader of the Friends group who has pushed for a community investment in Cedar Lake since his days as city parks commissioner and City Council member from 1998 to 2001.

“This gives us ammunition when folks try to discourage our efforts,” Todd said. “It reassures the public that the water quality is improving.”

Joe Sanfilippo, a DNR environmental program supervisor in the agency’s Manchester field office, reported Thursday to Todd and the Friends of Cedar Lake that the latest DNR test of tissue samples in catfish from Cedar Lake found that the level of PCBs was “below detectable limits” and the level of chlordane was .07 parts per million, under the advisory level of 0.6 parts per million.

John Olson, DNR’s environmental specialist for water quality, said the “bigger aspect” of the DNR’s action is that the agency is rescinding its near-three-decade-long fish consumption advisory at Cedar Lake.

“There is no known health risk from consuming Cedar Lake fish,” Olson said.

He said the advisory is what put the lake on the impaired waters list, and now it will go off the list.

Kevin Baskins, DNR spokesman in Des Moines, said Thursday that the status of the lake will go through a 45-day public comment period before the DNR recommends that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “delist” it.

Alliant Energy owns the lake, which it used as cooling water for its power plant that had operated next door. The utility closed the plant after it was damaged in the 2008 flood, and the plant is now in the process of demolition.

Alliant, the city and Linn County have entered into a memorandum of understanding with Friends of Cedar Lake to work on a new future for the lake. The parties have formed the Cedar Lake Steering Committee, which meets regularly.

“Today’s report is good news for Cedar Lake,” Ryan Stensland, Alliant spokesman, said Thursday. “We look forward to continuing our discussions with the community and steering team and assessing how today’s announcement impacts the future of Cedar Lake.”

Mayor Ron Corbett said the latest DNR data “takes a concern away” as he said the city looks at whether the lake can become publicly owned.

Next week, the steering committee will talk about seeking an EPA study grant for an analysis of the lake bottom.

“We need to continue the momentum moving ahead in the community to improve Cedar Lake,” Todd said. “Let’s find out what is in the sediment.”

The Friends of Cedar Lake have proposed plans that call for disturbing the lake’s bottom, but it isn’t known what contaminants might be buried there. The lake is only a few feet deep in many spots.

According to a DNR water quality report from 2001, chlordane is an insecticide used in the mid-1970s to fight termites around homes. It made its way into Cedar Lake in storm runoff. Concerns that chlordane caused cancer resulted in the chemical’s ban in 1988, the report stated.

l Comments: (319) 398-8312; rick.smith@thegazette.com

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