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Flooding refills drained lake in southeast Iowa

Watershed project behind schedule at Lake Geode

Lake Geode, which was emptied for a watershed construction project in 2017, refilled because of flooding this spring. The lake near Danville in southeast Iowa will be drained again so construction crews can complete dredging on 120,000 cubic yards of sediment. Removing sediment will help reduce the amount of bacteria in the lake. (Grace King/Golden Triangle News Service)
Lake Geode, which was emptied for a watershed construction project in 2017, refilled because of flooding this spring. The lake near Danville in southeast Iowa will be drained again so construction crews can complete dredging on 120,000 cubic yards of sediment. Removing sediment will help reduce the amount of bacteria in the lake. (Grace King/Golden Triangle News Service)
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DANVILLE — Geode State Park in southeast Iowa has been a construction zone for almost two years, so residents driving through the area recently were greeted with a surprise: a full lake.

Lake Geode was drained in fall 2017 for a watershed construction project to reduce the amount of bacteria, sediment and phosphorus in the lake from agricultural and non-agricultural sources. The project was expected to take just over a year, with completion tentatively scheduled for this spring.

Nature had a mind of its own, however, when heavy rains and flooding refilled the lake this spring.

“The lake being full again was unexpected,” said Ulf Konig, an engineer with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “Every day was amazing. It would just come up a couple more feet, and it was going over the spillway toward the Skunk River like a tidal wave.”

The watershed project has yet to be completed, so the lake has to be drained again. But for now, it gives the park the appearance of being back to normal.

“When the lake goes from being drained to being that full in a week, it’s shocking to see,” Konig said. “It was kind of nice to see the lake back. I was not displeased by that.”

Beyond the lake refilling, Konig said the state park didn’t see much flood damage. There were a couple of days when both roads coming into the park were closed because of flooding, but the roads now are open.

Michael Dufoe, southeast Iowa district engineer with the DNR, said the project already was facing some delays because of the “weird winter.” A lot of snow and little frost left construction crews unable to excavate the way they planned.

In addition to the weather delays, the state also canceled the original contract for the project and hired a new contractor, Peterson Contractor Inc. The company will start later this summer, with a tentative completion date of March 30.

“It’s unfortunate, but there’s not much we could do with that amount of rain we were getting,” Dufoe said.

Dufoe said the lake is slowly draining back down. Before it refilled, 80,000 cubic yards of sediment had been dredged from the lake. There are 120,000 cubic yards of sediment left to remove.

Konig said visitors can use the lake but should exercise caution. Boats could get stranded if water levels drop quickly.

Once the lake is drained, it will begin to look like a construction zone again, with dump trucks hauling sediment from the bottom.

Crews also will add new structures to the lake to avoid future environmental problems. Jetties will be added and trees will be removed along the shore to allow for better fishing. And stones placed on the shoreline will help with erosion.

Konig said the jetties will create more access points for anglers.

“You don’t really want to fish alongside another person,” Konig said. “You want to have a little bit of privacy and enjoy that time with your family.”

The park also is undergoing campground renovations, which are scheduled to be completed by midsummer.

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Given the construction, Konig expects attendance to drop to half of the 100,000 to 150,000 visitors the park typically gets in a year.

“We still get a lot of leaf lookers, mushroom hunters, and a lot of motorcyclists, especially on the weekends,” Konig said. “Even without the lake, there’s still a lot of usage out here — people coming down and enjoying nature.”

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