Drained lake is behind schedule. Targeted completion is March 2020.

The video gathered from an Iowa (DNR) Department of Natural Resources drone can be confusing. It shows a coffee-with-cream brown stream coiling its way through a grey and black background. Beside this slowly moving turbid mass is a yellowish brown border where bare earth is exposed.

Then familiar reference points begin to appear. The stark white concrete of a boat launching ramp leading nowhere becomes visible followed a few scattered picnic tables. Neighboring roads can be distinguished and then empty parking lots appear. Suddenly a view of Lake Geode snaps into focus.

However, it is a lake in distress.

The 187 acre Henry County jewel of a lake has been reduced to a muddy depression, amidst the 1640 acre state park. Geode State Park has long a popular destination for fisher folk, picnickers and weekend campers. However while the park still offers a quality outdoor experience, aquatic recreation has disappeared into the muddy lake bottom.

Lake Geode vanished in 2018 when the DNR decided that on-going siltation in the lake had to be addressed to insure recreational quality going forward. Soil and contaminants from the surrounding watershed had converted the northern portion of the lake in a marsh and water levels were in decline in the main body of the impoundment.

The lake had been drained in the 1980s however that corrective measure has proven to be relatively short lived requiring the DNR to enter into contracts to reconfigure the lake bottom, control the drainage flow into the main lake and repair damage to the water level control system.

Work began in 2018 with an attempt to drain the lake’s water so that heavy equipment could enter the exposed bed to remove unwanted soil and reshape the base. However, problems soon arose.

DNR engineer for southeast Iowa, Mike Defoe explained; “Problems came with the second phase of the contracts that was the replacement of the box valve at the bottom of a 52-foot deep shaft just off the main dam. You can see the top of the shaft from the road and this is where the contractor ran into problems.”

The box valve permits gravity drainage of the lake into a spillway leading to the nearby Skunk River. But the valve had become corroded and was inoperative. This prevented water drainage below the level feeding into the nearby concrete spillway. About 10 foot of water remained in the deepest depressions of lake bottom.

The contractor was able, with great difficulty, to extract the malfunctioning valve prior to the 2018-2018 winter shut down. It was planned to have the new valve in place by April 2019 to reestablish water level control.

“Then in the spring, we had huge rains,” Defoe said, “that overwhelmed the system. There was about three foot of rain over the season at the lake. The valve is onsite but the contractor has not been able to put it into place.”

Although water remains in the lake bottom awaiting the contractor’s placement of large pumps to remove it, other work at the site has progressed as planned.

A series of retaining ponds to capture runoff into the lake have been either refurbished or constructed. This will limit the amount of farm field sediment from entering the lake.

A rough “haul road” has been cut into the western bank to permit large trucks to continue the removal of spoil from the lake bottom. The contractor also will be required to install larger pumps into the lower lake bottom to remove the remaining water. However, cooperative weather is needed.

Once the lake has been fully drained, earth moving equipment would continue removal of soil from the lake’s north end to deepen the area around the swimming beach and concession area. Soil also will be moved to build fishing structures throughout the lake.

George Antoniou, DNR coordinator for the lake project, reports that although the project has been delayed, the targeted completion date of March 2020 is well within reach.

“Assuming we can get the lake properly drained to permit our contractor to get into the site, we should be OK. Contractors typically plan to do most of their earth moving during the fall and winter months so right now, we are not impacting that schedule.

Baring unforeseen autumn and snow accumulations over the coming winter months, the familiar Lake Geode should reappear in late spring 2020.