Saturday, July 19, 2008

Clarity at Clear Lake



It's one of those gray, green and fuzzy mornings when North Iowa still is deciding what it wants to be today: Louisiana or Southeast Asia during monsoon season. So far, it looks like Louisiana.

I've been at one desk or another too much this week, so took the 10-minute drive west to Clear Lake to see if I could find the dredging equipment that's been moved into place at Ventura, the little town at the northwest corner of the lake (much of the rest of Clear Lake is surrounded by Clear Lake the city).

Clear Lake is of Iowa's few natural lakes, all up here at the edge of old glaciation --- perhaps 50 at the most. There used to be more, but a majority of the smaller ones have been drained for farming or other purposes or have silted in and now are merely marshes.

Clear Lake's an attractive place and the two towns along its shores are nice, too, but as in much of Iowa there's no wild left, little sense that all that water once was part of a larger landscape with a life of its own. It must have been a sight to behold back then.

What's left is essentially a pretty puddle surrounded by affluent humans perched in astonishingly ugly but very expensive houses on postage-stamp-sized lakeshore lots looking out at the water or at each other.

The two largest public areas, Clear Lake State Park and McIntosh Woods State Park are nice --- but small. Clear Lake State Park is downright claustrophobic; McIntosh Woods, better --- at least from here if you pretend hard enough you can almost see how it might once have been.

It's better I'll bet for folks who like to be on or in the water. But less rewarding for those of us who like to just sit beside it and look.

One positive thing about the lake, however, is the quality of its water --- and that's improved dramatically lately after hard work by those who live around the lake and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which manages the liquid part of the equation.

The levels of nutrients from fertilizer runoff (a surprising amount of it generated by overenthusiastic lot owners pouring the stuff onto their grass) has been cut, so ugly and smelly algae blooms are diminishing. Game fish are flourishing. And now dredging of "little lake," which is actually just the west end of the lake proper, is about to begin.

In that area, depth has decreased from more than 20 feet to 6 at the most because of silt since humanity started fiddling around in a big way up here. So the dredges have been moved into place and this summer and next, a gazillion cubic yards of muck will be pumped out and spread elsewhere. When it's done, depth will have increased to about 20 feet; water clarity across the lake should improve since a stiff breeze will no longer stir up the muddy bottom in this part of it; and the DNR assures us fish will flock to little lake come winter to create an ice-fishing paradise.

That'll be nice.

1 comment:

Ed Abbey said...

I wonder if they will spread that mud on private property. I bet you could grow a heck of a crop with some of that!

It's been a long time since I visited Clear Lake on RAGBRAI sometime in the 80's. I remember it not being very clear or deep then.