SAYLORVILLE PLAN: Higher Usage, Shrinking Lake

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For the first time in three decades, the Army Corps of Engineers has a new master plan for the management of Saylorville Lake.

As much as any part of the Des Moines metro, the lake is changing.

“We’re an urban lake, now," said operations manager, Jeff Rose, "unlike when the lake was first built.”

pink mapThe darker pink areas have been developed since the lake filled in 1974.

“It’s increased pressure on our recreational facilities and it’s increased pressure on our natural resources,” Rose added.

The now urban lake saw 1.4 million visits, last year--the most ever.

“The more people, the more risk there is,” said boater, Lois Dixon, who made a special trip to the Johnston library to look over the draft of the plan.

This year, Saylorville gets a new master plan to help it deal with increased use.

“The camping is good," said Mark Scherer of Johnston, "I think the quality of the campgrounds is superb.”

Under the first draft of the new plan released Thursday campgrounds, trails and facilities will be upgraded, but not necessarily expanded.

“It’s about maintaining and modernizing what we have,” Rose pointed out.

But the Army Corps of Engineers says it has listened to many requests of Saylorville users.

“Some more trails, especially on the west side,” Scherer said.

The old West Side Trail, closed since 1993, would be reopened. The plan reflects the change in Saylorville’s use.

“Overall it’s become quite a recreational park,” said Dixon.

But it’s no longer the same recreational lake and that’s something the new plan can’t do anything about.

“The area north of the Mile Long Bridge, there are places now where the water is less than a foot deep,” Rose said.

With dredging cost-prohibitive, the new plan would close that area to boats in the summer and make it a wildlife refuge open to hunting in the fall, yielding to the inevitable.

“It will be still great for wildlife hunters, wildlife viewings and stuff like that--and flood control," said Scherer, "but as far as recreation, it’s going to silt in eventually and it won’t be a boating lake.”

The Corps hopes the new plan will serve Saylorville for the next 25 years, at which point this place could look very different.

To view the plan, click here.


    • Christopher Lyons

      Runoff is runoff. I doubt there’s much that reservoir management can do to mitigate pollutants that runoff into the waters that feed the lake. That needs to be addressed through proper land management that reduces the amounts of fertilizer and other materials that degrade the quality of our water. This has to be done not just near the lake and the river, but to the entirety of the watershed that feeds Saylorville lake. That includes even the outermost boundaries of the watershed that feeds the lake.

      Then we have to talk about land usage, as well. Residential and commercial development means adding roads, driveways, parking lots, etc. When you add those,things, you reduce the surface area of soil that can readily absorb moisture. Storm drains, drainage ditches, and retention ponds all eventually feed larger waterways and bodies of water. This increases the frequency and severity of flash flooding that endangers life and property, and frequently causes release of further pollutants into our waters.

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