Caleb Waters, Lake Geode watershed coordinator, will host public presentation Sunday about the water quality work.

DANVILLE — To the untrained eye, Lake Geode likely doesn't look much different than when it was drained almost one year ago.

But Caleb Waters, Lake Geode watershed coordinator, said this week the restoration project here actually was ahead of schedule.

Weather permitting, the 174-acre lake will reopen Memorial Day weekend of 2019.

"The weather is going to play a huge role in that, but things are moving forward and we're getting a lot of great work completed," said Waters.

Because of rainfall experienced last week that caused pooling water in the lake bed, dredging work was slowed. Last winter, dump trucks started to remove about 200,000 cubic yards of sediment from the lake as part of the larger effort to improve the watershed.

Construction crews have built an entire road through the lake since then to take away unwanted sediment.

Because of high pH and bacteria levels caused by human and animal waste, and fertilizer and sediment run-off, Lake Geode was put on the state's impaired waters list.

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In-lake restoration was bid in December 2017 for about $3 million.

Major funding partners for the project include Henry and Des Moines County Soil and Water Conservation districts; Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship; Natural Resource Conservation Service; Iowa Department of Natural Resources; and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The IDNR Lake Restoration Program is paying for 95 percent of the restoration efforts, while the EPA is contributing 3 percent and Resource Enhancement Program land management funds contribute 2 percent.

"Partnerships are huge," Waters said. "I can't stress that enough. Without all these partners we would not be able to do a project of this scale."

To control the amount of sediment building up in the lake, an in-lake silt dam will be built so in the event of heavy rain, clean water from the watershed will flow in and drop the sediment levels.

Waters pointed to Lake Darling in Brighton as an example of a similar project that was successfully completed.

"They've installed an in-lake silt dam and it's really improved the water quality at the lake. If you have good water quality you're going to have a good fishery."

Nearby landowners also are implementing conservation practices to improve water quality, including septic system upgrades, terraces, cover crops, ponds and filter strips.

When Lake Geode was first drained there was a lot of public interest in digging through the 68-year-old lake for artifacts.

Park manager Ulf Konig said he and Waters had to pull multiple people out of the mud when they waded too deep and got stuck.

At least one venture in the mud proved fruitful, however, when a man found a fishing tackle box from the 1980s with a wallet inside. The missing wallet belonged to a man in New London, who got his belongings returned to him more than two decades later.

Despite that success story, Waters and Konig don't recommend walking in the middle of the empty lake because of the risk of getting stuck.

Looking out across the beach, vegetation has grown to the point the lake is hardly recognizable. 

In addition to the watershed project, Lake Geode's campgrounds also are under construction until next summer.

Work started in March with the removal of 63 trees infected by the pervasive emerald ash boar. All of the park's previous 30-amp electrical sites for campers will be upgraded to 50 amps, and campsites will be widened for pull-through access and added privacy. New water lines are being added, too.

The new shower house at the entrance to the campground has been placed and electrical work is done. The biggest remaining project was the camper pads, Konig said. As long as the weather remained fairly dry, Konig estimated the campground would reopen early next summer.

Campground renovations are paid for through Lake Geode's funds for capital projects.

Friends of Geode State Park also are working to build a new concession stand at the park.

On Sunday, Waters will give a public presentation at the Dover Museum in New London about the watershed project. He also will bring a water table to teach the group about watersheds, pollution and conservation practices, as he does with local students.