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After 5 dry years, excitement builds in Lake Delhi; New dam expected to finish in the fall

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DELHI, Iowa — Todd Gifford didn't have long to enjoy the perks of being a lakeside property owner.

Shortly after he purchased a home near Lake Delhi, it began to rain. Though the inclement weather passed relatively quickly, roiling, raging stormwaters punched through an earthen dam wall.

On July 24, 2010, the man-made lake emptied into the North Fork Maquoketa River watershed.

"We did (enjoy the lake) for six months," Gifford said.

He paused.

"Maybe actually more like four months."

Five years later, Gifford is still there. A new dam — part of a $16 million lake restoration effort — is nearing completion and various public access improvements and upgrades are almost finished, the Telegraph Herald (http://bit.ly/1Ki94Eq ) reported.

Though his time near the lake was brief, it was impactful, Gifford said.

"We got to feel and understand why it's an important destination for Iowa," Gifford said. "It's a beautiful spot."

It's an "exciting" time for eastern Iowa, according to Steve Leonard, president of the lake district's board of trustees. Lake Delhi still is on track to be refilled this year — likely in late fall — in the same footprint and at the same level as it was prior to the 2010 storms.

"Our whole community is extremely excited," Leonard said. "We're all in the last stages of getting preparations made for the lake being filled up."

Since the lake drained, oversight has been passed to the Lake Delhi Combined Water Quality and Recreational Facility District. The district has the authority to tax property owners to raise funds for the lake's restoration.

District trustees secured $5 million from the state to help build a new dam and spillway, plus $300,000 for pre-construction studies. Delaware County officials will chip in up to $3 million for construction of the spillway.

Though the lake itself will be nearly identical to what existed before, public access opportunities will be greatly improved, Leonard said. The district gifted the Turtle Creek recreation area to the county, and the two entities are splitting most of the costs to make it more hospitable to visitors.

Turtle Creek now has two boat ramps, a parking area, new restrooms and county conservation officials are exploring the possibility of installing a new beach.

It's a far cry from what was there before, according to Garlyn Glanz, the county's conservation director.

"No boat ramp, very little parking, hard to have access to the water and a very old restroom facility," he said.

About $100,000 for public access upgrades will come from the state. The remainder of the project's $700,000 to $800,000 price tag will be split between the district and the county.

The public access improvements were required to receive public funding.

More than 200 homes near the lake were damaged by flooding, Leonard said. Most of those properties are being restored, he said.

On Aug. 1, more than 100 area residents and volunteers spread out across the lakebed, uprooting hundreds of trees. Gifford — who is a district trustee — and a smaller crew of workers recently went out again to take down some of the larger trees that could not be reached by heavy machinery.

"(The) focus was on hand-cutting down trees that are in areas of the lake that would be a recreational hazard, safety-wise," Gifford said.

The project suffered a setback June 23 when a temporary cofferdam gave way after a series of rains. Fixing and sealing the breach took about a month.

"Since then, our contractors have been trying to make up for time lost," Leonard said. "We're optimistic and our expectation is that we'll have a dam completed this fall."

That optimism is shared by the surrounding community, according to Leonard.

"I know a lot of people have already started getting their boats ready to be used or (are) buying new boats," he said. "They're preparing for a big year next year."


Information from: Telegraph Herald, http://www.thonline.com

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