Iowa’s oldest public impoundment has been reborn. Drained six years ago, Lake Darling began coming to life again late this past winter, as the outlet pipe was sealed and six bottles of water were ceremoniously poured onto the expanded 304-acre lake bed.
“Obviously, we get this snow to melt. There is a little water seeping out of the ground already,” said Vance Polton, fisheries technician for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “We expect with a normal spring that by the end of April, the lake will be full.”
Bass and other species will be stocked in early summer, as work is completed on boat ramps, roads, and a campground at the Lake Darling State Park fishery in southeast Iowa.
Named for legendary conservationist Jay “Ding” Darling, the impoundment was considered a showplace when it first opened to the public in 1950. But runoff from surrounding farm lands quickly began to degrade it.
“In the 1970s, it (water) would flow in hot chocolate brown,” said biologist Don Kline.
But in 2008, the lake was drained and a $16-million renovation begun, courtesy of a coalition of landowners, donors, and government agencies. According to DNR, enough muck was trucked out to fill a football field 12 stories high.
Additionally, 162 conservation projects now are in place to help sustain water quality. They include water-control basins, terraces, and soil-holding grasses, with many of them involving two or more landowners working together.
“Without the landowners, we would not have any of this done,” said Stan Simmons, watershed coordinator.