Lake Delhi dam starving other lake restoration projects of funds

A conference committee of Iowa House and Senate members has yet to determine whether the Iowa legislature will allocate $5 million over two years to rebuild the dam at Lake Delhi in Delaware County. However, it’s already clear that more worthwhile lake restoration projects in Iowa will go without funding next year thanks to money set aside to rebuild the Delhi dam.

Perry Beeman wrote an excellent article for the Sunday Des Moines Register: “Lake restoration projects likely to be delayed with big budget cut.” I recommend clicking through to read the whole piece. Excerpt:

Mike McGhee of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, one of the state’s top lake-fixers, said he has stopped accepting new restoration applications because the department needs to finish several high-cost, high-profile projects before it takes on more work. It pains him to turn away lake preservationists, especially when they’ve raised local money to help.

During a recent interview McGhee plopped a stack of letters onto his desk from people advocating for lake projects that will have to wait. “I know this is important to them, but we just don’t have the money,” he said. “These are the types of projects that will be languishing.”

At the same time, lake visits are up. “Iowa State University found that 60 percent of Iowans visit lakes,” McGhee said. “It’s a quality of life issue.”

Among the projects that may have to wait is a high-profile effort to reduce pollution running into Big Creek Lake north of Des Moines, although some limited watershed work is already under way. Black Hawk Lake awaits projects to reduce soil runoff, and possible dredging. The Twin Lakes in northwest Iowa are filling in, and area residents want a full health checkup for those waters.

A map accompanying Beeman’s article shows 21 lakes around the state with “water quality projects that are in danger of being delayed or scrapped because money is short.”

The Iowa DNR’s lake restoration money comes from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund, which is financed through gambling revenues. Beeman reports,

Previously, the agency had been getting about $8.6 million a year for restoration work. But it received just $5.5 million for the current budget year, and Gov. Terry Branstad has called for funding to remain at that level for the budget year starting July 1.

Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said the governor suggested a hold-the-line budget for next year simply because cash is tight.

“The governor recognizes the vital role lakes play in our economic development and tourism efforts,” Albrecht said. “Despite tight agency and department budgets, the governor has made the Lake Restoration Program funding a priority.”

Beeman didn’t mention one salient fact: the Lake Delhi dam project is the main reason for the big cut in DNR lake restoration funding.

The dam at Delhi (pronounced “dell-high”) washed away in a July 2010 flood. During the 2011 legislative session, backers of the Delaware County recreation area persuaded lawmakers to allocate $5 million from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund toward rebuilding the dam: $2.5 million in fiscal year 2012, and $2.5 million in fiscal year 2013. At the same time, other lake restoration money dropped from more than $8 million to about $5.5 million in fiscal year 2012. Governor Terry Branstad line-item vetoed the $2.5 million for Lake Delhi from the current year’s budget last July, saying further study of the project was warranted. But that veto did nothing to reverse the cut to other lake restoration projects.

Meanwhile, a feasibility study on restoring the Lake Delhi dam went ahead last September. Branstad included $2.5 million for Lake Delhi in his proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 and advocated spending another $2.5 million in fiscal year 2014.

The Iowa Senate included $5 million for Lake Delhi over two years in its Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund budget and funded other DNR lake restoration projects at $5.459 million in fiscal year 2013. The Iowa House Appropriations Committee removed the Delhi funding but left the DNR lake restoration money at $5.459 million in fiscal year 2013. Conference committee negotiators will work out the differences between the bills. The Delhi funding is important to retiring State Senator Tom Hancock, and Senate Democrats need all 26 votes in their caucus to pass budget bills. (The Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund budget passed the Iowa Senate on a party-line 26 to 24 vote in March.) Delaware County is part of the open swing Senate district 48.

A coalition of non-profit groups oppose the Lake Delhi project on environmental and economic grounds, which Bleeding Heartland discussed here. Mike Smith, treasurer of Iowa Rivers Revival, recently made the case against using taxpayer money to fund a “private vacation lake” with “almost no public access.” Those arguments may or may not carry the day at the statehouse. Even if the ax falls on $2.5 million for Lake Delhi, there’s virtually no chance that money will be used to bring the DNR’s lake restoration budget back up to $8 million. Meanwhile, Beeman’s report underscores how many good projects will not be completed at Iowa lakes with much more public access than Delhi.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S.- Iowa Rivers Revival has organized an educational event on a related topic for April 21 (Earth Day weekend).

What’s the DAM Solution?  Exploring options for dealing with Iowa dams.

IRR is coordinating a dam seminar to address the multiple perspectives concerning dams on rivers in Iowa. We have developed an agenda that will present an overview of dam issues while facilitating a discussion among presenters and participants.

–          What are the purpose of dams; do we need them?

–          What are concerns related to dam safety?

–          What are some alternatives to new dams?

–          How can we address aging/deteriorating infrastructure that no longer serves it original purpose?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

1:00 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Blank Park Zoo – Discovery Room

7401 SW 9th Street, Des Moines, IA 50315

Registration: $10

RSVP: rlehman AT iowarivers.org or 515.202.7720

AGENDA

Introduction

Dam Preview

Dam Removal Options – presentations from

–          American Rivers

–          Charles City, Iowa

Dam Panel – discussion among presenters and River Currents participants

Break

River Advocates/Stakeholder Panel – a discussion about different perspectives concerning dams

Wrap-up

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