JOHNSON COUNTY, Iowa (KWWL) — A popular Iowa lake is one step closer to opening after two years of sitting empty, as one conservation group puts up a battle against harmful blue-green algae.
By Monday, the valves had been closed at Kent Park Lake which meant the lake could once again start to fill back in. By that afternoon, water had started to slowly spill out of the creek that runs through the man-made lake.
“Water quality was one of the biggest issues we were having here,” Johnson County Conservation Park Ranger Charlie Bray said.
Bray said, over the years, the lake frequently was taken over by blue-green algae.
“One thing we noticed is that is was getting worse every year and so over the six years that I have been here. Our beach was being closed more and more every season,” Bray said.
On top of its poignant rotten-egg smell, blue-green algae blooms release a toxin that can give people rashes and flu-like symptoms. It can also be deadly for pets and damaging to underwater ecosystems.
In Iowa, lakes have been dealing with blue-green algae more than ever. Bray said the hope is that the effort to combat it at Kent Park Lake can be a successful model for other lakes in the state.
While visitors will notice some aesthetic changes, most of the work will have been done underwater.
“We’ve deepened the lake so the overall depth of the lake is quite a bit deeper but then we’re also going to do some other things like some aquatic vegetation that will help tie up some of the nutrients that would have been available for the algae,” Bray said.
Later this summer, Johnson County Conservation will start planting 17,000 aquatic plants.
By Monday, Bray was already getting a jump start on adding bluegill to the lake from a catch basin, where more of the renovation work was done.
“We’ve renovated old catch basins, built new ones, and what will happen is as the water comes off the land its captured into these catch basins where it has time to slow down and settle out and we don’t end up the phosphorous nutrients in the lake like before,” he said.
When the restoration project finishes, Bray said it should give them 50 years of a healthy lake and hopefully 100 more.
Johnson County Conservation hopes to open the area to the public in May, which is good news according to Bray. He said since the lake’s closure, fewer visitors have come to the park.
However, it will still be several months before the lake and beach restoration is complete. Bray said they hope to see it done in August.
Altogether, the price tag for the restoration is expected to be around $3.5 million, Bray said. Johnson County and Conservation Bonding Program are picking up half the costs while the Iowa DNR’s Lake Restoration Program will round out the other half.