DNR Rejects Lake Delhi Public Access, Water Quality Plans

By Orlan Love, Reporter

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 to improve water quality by upgrading lake district septic systems have been deemed "not adequate" by the 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 its Maquoketa River dam.

"First things first," said Leonard. "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 State Rep. Lee Hein, R-Monticello, an incumbent running in the redrawn District 96 that 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 district 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.

Though 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 with Delaware County officials plans to provide boat ramps, campgrounds, public shelters and additional parking.

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, each of which will be free to the public and include 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 for purposes of this requirement.

Moreover, the DNR said, if the district intends to establish a permanent public access to the lake at the Turtle Creek Access or any other area of the district that is either prone to collect sediment or that has been silted in, the district may be required to analyze the sediment delivery and provide a plan to DNR for sediment removal before DNR can approve the access as meeting the requirements of the appropriation.

The lake district's water quality improvement plan, citing Delaware County Water and Sanitation Administrator Dennis Lyons, asserted that the district is in full compliance with applicable laws and that more than 400 residences have septic system permits.

The plan said twice-yearly educational seminars will be held to inform residents of technological advances and to foster a clean water culture that will make Lake Delhi a state model for managing waterfront development. The plan also called for continuing the volunteer water quality monitoring under the DNR's IOWATER program.

The DNR 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.

"This approach would, in essence, require that all systems be inspected for compliance, consistent with the inspections that occur under the time-of-transfer law, prior to DNR making the funding available under the appropriation to the District," the DNR said.

Both Hein and State Rep. Nate Willems, D-Lisbon, said they find that requirement unduly burdensome.

"The Legislature and the governor agreed we wanted the state to play a role in rebuilding the dam sooner rather than later. It seems Gipp is throwing up roadblocks," said Willems, who is running to represent Senate District 48, which includes the Lake Delhi district.

"I don't see what authority Gipp has to make them jump through hoops," Willems said.

That authority is cited in Gipp's letter to Leonard.

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.
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