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Lake Delhi Documentary Aims to Show What Region Lost

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DELHI, Iowa - As the summer recreation season starts, many dream of being on the water and in it. Yet, another dry summer awaits Lake Delhi. But a new documentary aims to build more support to rebuild the lake's dam.

In July of 2010, 10 inches of rainwater in 12 hours proved too overbearing for the Delhi Dam, causing it to overflow, rip open and the lake to drain. Close to three years since that rainy Saturday, little more than a stream remains.

"It's not good for anything right now. Most of the whole lake is too shallow to even kayak or tube in," said Chris Stender who's lived on Lake Delhi his whole life.

His waterfront property is now mostly dry, a major hit to his property value. Stender, like many in the region, is waiting for action to be taken on the dam so he can return to the summers he remembers so fondly.

"If the lake isn't coming back, I'm gone," Stender said.

Dubuque financial advisor Charles Cunliffe and his wife Mary were inspired by these stories. It lead them to create the documentary "We Will Be Back: The Lake Delhi Story." The film focuses on what Delhi meant to people who made it the fabric of their days.

"How much they loved life on the lake, what it meant to their families, particularly the stories of how they connected with their kids," Charles Cunliffe said.

In between his work schedule, Cunliffe managed to log 1,400 hours of work on the film, taking more than two years to complete. The premier was Saturday in Manchester. There were three showings with a packed theater for each.

"I hope that people see this and understand the community that Lake Delhi was," Jim Willey, lake resident, said.

The effort to restore Delhi has been gradual but still without any long-term results. A resolution is getting closer. The total cost to repair the dam and renovate the lake is estimated at more than $23 million. Through, local, county and state funding sources, close to $15 million has been secured. Enough, to start work on the dam, but officials say they are still working on permits from the Iowa DNR and the Army Corps of Engineers.

"We're very optimistic that we're to the point that we need to be and working with our partners out there to get us where we need to go," said Steve Leonard with the Lake Delhi Community Rebuild Team.

Leonard says dam repair could start late this summer.

In April, Governor Terry Branstad showed support by signing a bill that allows for a waiver of some easement requirements. But some at the Iowa DNR warned that could land taxpayers with the cost of future flood damage when Lake Delhi is restored.

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