Melting snow starts to fill Lake Darling
BRIGHTON — It was just more than a month ago that a celebration was held to set the gate of the Lake Darling dam, and by Thursday morning, Lake Darling was just shy of being completely refilled.
Iowa Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Chad Dolan said Thursday that the lake is within 3.5 feet of being full. He said that in some areas, Lake Darling is 20 feet deep.
“We are fortunate we had some warm days in conjunction with some very substantial rainfall,” Dolan said. “The ground was frozen at that point and the water quickly made its way from the watershed into the lake.”
He said the watershed is more than 12,000 acres in size, and because there is such a large area catching the rainfall and snow runoff, it doesn’t take long for the water to be transported to the lake bottom.
Dolan said it had been a long time since Lake Darling had water. The gate was first opened to drain the water in 2008 as part of what was supposed to be a two-year project to remove silt from the lake. Since then, a variety of issues delayed the completion of the project.
“We are finally to a point we have our lake back,” Dolan said. “It has been a long time, but I think people are going to be pleased with the result. It will have excellent water quality – probably better water quality than anyone has seen at Lake Darling — as a result of all the work that has been done at the watershed and lake basin. Lots of infrastructure work occurred in the park as well.”
Dolan said the DNR has ordered fish to restock the lake several times in the years and this year it appears the fish are going to be stocked. He said the fish should be in the lake before the end of March, and that bluegill will be the first fish that get to swim in the lake.
The remainder of the project is now land-based. Dolan said many roads throughout the park are still under construction. He said crews can’t proceed with the work until the frost is gone from the ground. Another project being completed is the Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant fishing trail. He said there is still some work to be done on on that project, which the department hopes to finish in July.
Dolan said an open house will be held when the project is complete. The date and time have not been set yet, but Dolan said it may coincide with the Sept. 17 anniversary of Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling’s closing of the dam gate for the first time in 1950.
“I’m really excited and I hope people are really excited,” Dolan said. ‘I know it has been a long wait, but I can’t stress enough that it will be well worth it. Everything you see will be brand-new and better than anyone remembers. It is time to get enthusiastic and excited about having Lake Darling back.”
The project is being funded by several sources, including a federal grant from Lakes Restoration. Fish and Wildlife Trust Funds and Marine Fuel Tax funds have contributed to the project as well.