Monday, July 26, 2010

Dam inconvenient

Aren’t they interesting, these puzzling and sometimes tragic situations the unalterable nature of things sometimes land us in? That includes Saturday’s failure of the Lake Delhi dam in Delaware County, up in northeast Iowa on the Maquoketa River.

I was there briefly once while chasing Delaware County kinfolk on the Redlingshafer side of things. It was a pretty place and I’m sorry that it’s gone.

No lives were lost, but we all should have a great deal of sympathy for those whose only homes were lost or damaged. Federal aid probably will be available to assist them, but of course that won’t be enough. The owners of the hundreds of recreational retreats along the shoreline probably will have to fend for themselves. Hopefully, most will be able to afford to do so. They at least still have their principal homes.

And then there’s the tax revenue generated for Delaware County by property now of substantially less value along the former shoreline (The Des Moines Register estimates that at 10 percent of the county total). And the boost the lake and its users gave to the regional economy.

It’s the “what’s next?” situation that’s the puzzle. Property owners and others are already calling for a rebuilding project, urging that public money be invested. At least some of those calling, I’d guess, deplore “big government” and “big spending” in situations not quite so close to home.

The big problem with the dam is the fact it was privately owned. Created in the 1920s to harness the Maquoketa for hydroelectric purposes, its purpose became solely recreational when the turbines ceased to turn. Although the water behind the dam was publicly owned and because of that public access areas were required and available, the dam itself was private property, owned and maintained by an association of property owners along the shore.

There was nothing structurally wrong with the dam. It just wasn’t designed to withstand the flow of water generated when rains unprecedented since construction overwhelmed it, probably because there was no emergency outflow. When water could not flow fast enough through the concrete gates, it began flowing over the earthen part of the structure and that inevitably eroded. If it is rebuilt, it will have to meet new and far tougher standards and that will be very expensive. So those who want the lake back want government assistance.

The Maquoketa River reasserted itself here and took control again --- that’s the nature of things when you’re dealing with creation and viewed from one perspective, it’s a hopeful development, especially when lives were spared.

It’s hard to justify extensive public expense to rebuild a privately-owned dam in these tough economic times. And quite frankly, probably because I’m not rich and don’t like to play in or on the water, I’d just as leave look down on a free-flowing river from my deck --- if I had one.

If I had a cottage parked along the shore of what once was Lake Delhi I’d most likely have an entirely different view.

Just to be on the safe side, I’m going to drive out this morning and check the dam at Red Haw. It’s earthen, too, although it does have an emergency outlet and blocks a very small drainage. The dam and the lake also are entirely public. I’d sure hate to lose that one.


Martin said...

Money is not "made" in Des Moines or Washington; is comes from the taxpayers. We must stop the bleeding of money into every cry baby in the country. It is a private enterprise, so let it stand on its own.


Ed said...

I'm in agreement with you Frank. I'm not in favor of rebuilding with taxpayer dollars and I would probably have a different view had I owned former lakeside property. But like Martin, we have to stop our bleeding of money and now is as good a time as any.