Restored wetlands improve popular Iowa lakes

Cleaner Iowa Great Lakes help ducks, economy

Iowa’s substantial wetland loss over the last century has impacted duck habitat and water quality for drinking and recreation.

In northern Iowa’s Great Lakes region, for example, the lakes are economic drivers, attracting more than one million vacationers annually. A lack of wetlands to filter rainwater runoff, however, means the Dickinson County lakes are threatened by nutrient-driven algae blooms from surrounding agriculture fields.

Lower Gar is a 420-acre lake that is part of the Iowa Great Lakes system. Rainwater carrying nutrients from surrounding fields pour into Lower Gar, and in turn into the other lakes. Ducks Unlimited this year helped improve water quality by restoring two wetlands that now treat water running into the lake. The wetlands filter runoff from 8,233 surrounding acres and prevent 427 pounds of phosphorous from entering the lake annually.

A cleaner Lower Gar Lake benefits people, waterfowl and other wildlife, and those benefits are the aim of the Dickinson County Clean Water Alliance, a collection of more than 60 organizations charged with keeping waterways clean.

“There are multiple benefits,” said John Wills, Clean Water Alliance Coordinator for the Dickinson Soil and Water Conservation District. “When we restore a wetland, it’s not just helping one person out, it’s helping many other people who enjoy fresh, clean water.”

Dickinson County illustrates Iowa’s water quality problems: Less than 10 percent of Iowa’s historic wetlands remain, 53 percent of Iowa’s waters are ranked “poor” and 500 waterways are impaired.

Mike Shannon, Ducks Unlimited regional biologist for Iowa, said these restorations are part of Dickinson County’s aggressive effort to improve the water that hydrates an entire economy.

“This area is very proactive and is leading the state in addressing water quality issues,” he said.

The work in Dickinson County is part of Ducks Unlimited’s Living Lakes Initiative. It was funded through a North American Wetland Conservation Act grant with support from Wells Fargo, Nestlé Purina, Pure Fishing, Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Flint Hills Resources.