Lee County Conservation Exploring Possibilities for Pool 19

At a special meeting of the Lee County Conservation Board Tuesday afternoon, the board approved of a resolution supporting exploration of a possible conservation improvement project to enhance pool 19.

The board requested that local wildlife expert Jim Noll give a small presentation regarding his goal of turning pool 19 into a wildlife refuge to improve the basin above Pool 19 both economically and ecologically.

Noll began the discussion by using the example of the Des Moines River beginning at the capitol where 155 miles of the river has been designated as a whitewater theme park. According to Noll, no brick and mortar was used in the project as it consisted of tenderizing the bottom of the river by moving some large boulders around. He went on to state that as a result the area has become a haven for recreation and now even has areas where you can ski in place similar to spots in the Turkey River near Elkader where they’ve been partaking in this recreation for about a decade.

Jim Noll then moved to comparing that project to what is going on at Pool 19 downriver from Fort Madison where he says the 1913 introduction of Lock and Dam 19 has damaged the river both ecologically and recreationally.

“The U.S. Coast Guard has designated this area of the Mississippi as a ‘Danger High Wind Area’. That’s how dangerous the river is at Pool 19. One of the reasons that is a flat mud plane is that when they damned up up the river this area filled up and cut off 34 species of fish, plants, and fauna from returning from south of the dam.”

Noll also stated that the waters that filled in the pool removed some important land structures.

“They also flooded out the majority of the islands and what islands remained were removed by wind. With no islands for protection, the prevailing winds out the west run parallel with the river for a stretch and its both dangerous and destructive. The siltation (sic) and clarity of the water suffer which results in the loss of wildlife.”

This is where Noll inserted his hopes of getting both the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife to designate the area a Federal Wildlife Refuge like they have in places above several lock and dams on the border of Northeastern Iowa. According to Noll, the Corps has been reconstructing islands where they had previously been flooded out and as a result fishing, hunting, and recreation have boomed.

“Why can’t we do that here? That’s what we’re looking at doing. These people (Lee County Conservation) have bought about 2,000 acres of either waterbound (sic) or submerged acreage. If we can bring back those island chains, some of which are roughly a mile long, we could bring a whole new economy to the area”

The next step, according to Jim Noll, is how to fund the project.

“This is an economic project. Obviously, the federal government will have to be involved through the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. Since 1913, they haven’t spent a dime on Pool 19 because it has been privately owned until recently.”

As far as how to get started, Noll said it’s up to the Conservation Department and local citizens to get the ball rolling.

“U.S. Fish and Wildlife policy states they cannot accept any new ground for their refuge or sister systems. We need to come together and speak to our representatives. Governor Reynolds already has stated, through her economic adviser, that she will write a letter supporting this project. We’re not asking the government to spend any new money; just to allocate some of what they’re already spending up north down to us.”

Conservation Director Nathan Unsworth explained the exact nature of the resolution that was unanimously passed by the Conservation Board.

“So this resolution is just indicating that the Conservation Department supports this project and its benefits which include enhancing wildlife habitat, improving water quality, and expanding recreational opportunities as well as the economic impact it could have on our region. It also names Jim Noll as the liaison for the project as he has already made so many contacts.”

Conservation Board President Liza Alton was quick to state that at this point the board is simply exploring possibilities and no real estate or funds will be changing hands as a result of the resolution.

Below is a YouTube video provided by Jim Noll which shows similar projects that have taken place in Wisconsin. The video also demonstrates how the islands are restored in the Mississippi River.