Armored with rocks to prevent erosion, nearly 100 acres of new islands will provide prime habitat for smallmouth bass when an $11.8 million restoration project on Pool 9 of the Mississippi River is completed in 2018.
Additionally, dredged areas that provided fill for the islands will offer valuable overwintering areas at least 8 feet deep for fish.
"This will be great for fish, waterfowl, shorebirds, and the people who enjoy them," said Karen Osterkamp, a fisheries biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, as seasonal work resumed recently on this portion of the river that separates northeastern Iowa from Wisconsin.
The ambitious rehabilitation was planned cooperatively by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey and the Departments of Natural Resources in both Iowa and Wisconsin, with funding through the Army Corps of Engineers' Upper Mississippi River Restoration/Environmental Management Program.
Since Lock and Dam No. 9 was built in 1937, channelization has resulted in the loss of many natural islands and flood plain forests, reducing habitat for both fish and migratory birds. Seven islands and three emergent wetlands are being constructed in the 2,200-acre Harpers Slough backwater between river miles 650 and 653 at the lower end of the pool to help restore the ecological balance.
"One of the main goals is to maintain habitat for tundra swans and canvasback ducks that stop on Pool 9 during their migrations," said Mike Griffin, the Iowa's Mississippi River wildlife biologist.
He expects the new wetlands to bear large crops of arrowhead plants, whose underwater tubers, known as duck potatoes, are a preferred food for the thousands of tundra swans that visit the pool each year.