LAKE DELHI, Iowa — It’s back to the drawing board for Lake Delhi officials, whose plans to improve public access to the rebuilt lake and improve water quality by upgrading lake district septic systems have been deemed “not adequate” by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
“We’ll get through it. We’re happy to have written feedback from the DNR on its expectations,” said Steve Leonard, president of the Combined Lake Delhi Recreation and Water Quality District, the official governing body of the area left lakeless when 2010 flooding breached the Maquoketa River dam.
“First things first,” Leonard said. “We need to get the lake back and restore the area’s economic development potential. As that process continues, we can continue to work on the public access and water quality requirements.”
“The Legislature has spoken that it wants the dam rebuilt. The DNR needs to work with the Lake Delhi people and figure out a way to get it done,” said Rep. Lee Hein, R-Monticello, whose district includes Lake Delhi.
In appropriating $5 million to help fund rebuilding of the dam, the legislature required the lake district to submit plans to improve public access and to reduce pollution and improve the lake’s water quality by addressing residents’ septic systems.
In a Sept. 20 letter to Leonard, DNR Director Chuck Gipp said both plans are “not adequate.”
The eight-paragraph Lake Delhi public access plan, submitted June 21, listed several existing public access amenities, almost all of which are provided either by Delaware County or private businesses.
Although the document included no concrete improvement plans, it offered two “opportunities for improvement” of public access: marketing Lake Delhi in forums and publications and discussing plans with Delaware County officials to provide boat ramps, campgrounds, public shelters and additional parking.
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Rather than outline plans for new public access amenities, the plan advocated “signage to create more public awareness of this eastern Iowa attraction.”
The DNR said it will require the district to install and maintain at least one public beach and one public boat ramp free to the public with access from a state or county road, adequate parking and modern restroom facilities. Other DNR requirements include portage facilities at the eventual dam site and two public fishing access sites, one of which must be near the dam site.
The DNR said it will not consider accesses outside of the lake district (at county parks, for example) to be considered as meaningful public access.
The DNR also disputed the district’s assertion that it does not have water quality issues. The DNR said its own monitoring of the lake’s surface water and ground water has found elevated levels of e. coli and fecal coliform bacteria. All septic systems and wells within the district should be inventoried, inspected and upgraded, if needed, the DNR said.
Since the money was appropriated to the DNR with the public access and water quality stipulations, “the DNR is responsible to ensure compliance with these restrictions and requirements in order to protect the state’s investment in the reconstruction of the Lake Delhi dam,” Gipp wrote in his letter to the district.