Congressman hears complaints about low water level at Lake Odessa
By Connie Street of the Muscatine Journal

WAPELLO, Iowa - 2nd District Congressman Jim Leach, R-Iowa City, got an earful about Lake Odessa Tuesday afternoon when about two dozen residents attended a community forum at the Louisa County Courthouse.

When area residents asked about the status of the Lake, Leach said he realizes that the homeowners in the area want it used for recreation while the state believes its primary use should be for wildlife.

"There is a difference in judgment between naturalists and those supporting recreational uses," Leach said. "It should be able to be used for both."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has owned the lake since the early 1940s and contracted with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in the mid 1940s for its management.

Several people in the audience agreed that the biggest problem is the lake's water level, which is controlled by the DNR.

"All we asking for is 10 (more) inches of water - enough to get around in a boat," said local angler Clarence Salladay of Wapello.

He showed photographs of dead fish and of himself standing knee deep in water at the lake. He said that years ago, the lake was waist deep.

Salladay gave Leach a copy of lease between the Corps and the DNR in effect from 1984 through 2009, which describes the area as public park and recreation area.

Leach said that, unless the contract's been updated, its terms say that the DNR is obligated to be concerned about the park and recreation aspect of the lake.

Ken Purdy, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, also showed photos of the lake area. Leach expressed surprise at how low the water is.

"Are you sure that's not because of the drought?" he asked. Purdy said the low level can be attributed only to the DNR-controlled drawdown. Purdy's photos, taken Saturday, also showed only two vehicles in the parking lot at one of the major access areas.

"There should have been hundreds," replied Leach.

The lake is drawn down to about 2 feet deep in the summer to encourage the growth of aquatic plant life, according to Bill Ohde, wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The lake, which allows boating, fishing and other water activities, is managed to attract waterfowl such as ducks and geese. At summer's end, the water level is raised to about 6 feet deep in the main lake area, Ohde said.

Purdy said the residents don't want to see the water level dip below 4 1/2 feet deep

Of the 7,000nacre site, about 3,000 acres are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services for boating and fishing. In the fall, that portion is closed to the public and serves as a protected duck and goose refuge. The remaining 4,000 acres are managed by the DNR where boating, fishing, swimming and duck hunting are allowed. However, local users say the water level is not conducive to those activities.

Purdy said the mission of Lake Odessa management needs to be changed from a single-purpose usage for migratory birds to a multipurpose, recreational setting.

Purdy said a petition asking that Lake Odessa be managed as a multipurpose recreation area has drawn about 500 signatures since it was first circulated Friday. He said the Louisa County Board of Supervisors supports the petition.

The petition, which originated from cabin owner Bill Orr, states that the lake "has the potential to be more attractive for recreation and to more effectively help the local economy." It further requests the lake be managed as a multipurpose facility that would benefit all interests including "duck hunting, fishing, boating, boarders, canoers and cabin owners."

Purdy also said another reason to expand the use is because the flyway for the migratory birds has changed and is farther west of the area, which means there are fewer waterfowl in the area.

Leach said the state might not want the area if it can't manage it the way the DNR sees fit. He offered to talk to Corps officials.





Just being familiar with the biology of the different plants, we know what will happen to those over time without drawdowns, and then we know how those changes would affect wildlife species.

Increased mortality on trees, especially the oaks, hickories and pecans. Would probably lose most of those mast trees over time. Would also lose the more flood tolerant species like silver maple and river birch on the lower ground. Oaks in particular are important to wood ducks, mallards, deer, wild turkeys, squirrels and a host of nongame birds. Not only are the acorns important but the leaves break down slower and are an important substrate for invertebrates in the spring.
See next paragraph about invertebrates.

No growth of annual plants in pond areas. They require mudflats to germinate so they would be restricted to shorelines. This would include millets, annual smartweeds, nutsedges, bidens, pigweeds, etc. This in turn means no flooded vegetation for food and cover in fall or following spring and no substrate for invertebrates which are the building blocks of the food chain for fish and important in the diet of shorebirds and waterfowl.

Loss of buttonbush (buckbrush) over time. It needs areas to dry out completely to establish from seed. It does fine in shallow water once it's established, but high water thins it out and floods kill the tops, requiring the area to be drawn down for it to resprout from roots or dried out completely for a couple year period to re-establish by seed.
This is what needs to be done to restore it to large open water areas that once had expanses of it. Of course this is a valuable plant for fish and waterfowl. Hunters and fisherman both know that.

Increased rate of shoreline erosion. The level they want would put the water right on that bare shoreline all summer long (and it would be bare because vegetation couldn't get established without the drawdowns) and it would take a continuous pounding from wave action. Areas would open up rapidly, ponds becoming bigger and before long, Goose, Round, Nelson, Mallard and Mill would all be one big pond. It would happen faster than you think. We really need more severe drawdowns to stabilize that erosion.

I don't think it's exaggerating to say that the whole face of Odessa and it's attraction and importance to waterfowl and a whole host of other critters would decline within a matter of a few years and within 10-15, the Odessa we know and value would be just another shallow open sterile backwater area that might hold some ducks for a few days and that would be it. It is what it is because of the mgmt that has been in place for the last 50 years, and granted, there haven't been as many ducks using it the last few years as there were in the past, but percentage-wise, it still holds as big a share of the ducks in Iowa that it ever has.


Bill Ohde IDNR




Tom Cox, USFWS Port Louisa  manager's comments on Bill's assessment.




I can't add much to Bill's assessment but I will give a couple of extra bullets.

This time of year the shorebirds are migrating south and depending on mudflats and sheet water now for their migration this is also preferred teal habitat. The lack of drawdown would not only negatively impact mast trees it would prevent expansion. Even trees that won't have standing water on them are affected by the saturated root zone since ground water levels will be elevated. The higher water levels will also impact the ability to draw down the managed moist soil units on the refuge which drain into Odessa. This would negate all the progress we have made in habitat here the last few years and cause an increase in river bulrush which has very little food value.






Please Sign the below petition in support of the current primary management plan of the Lake Odessa complex.