Lake Geode watershed conservation project in final stages

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News


DANVILLE ? It?s been just shy of a year since the plug was pulled on Lake Geode.

The now-empty basin is under construction that will reduce the amount of bacteria, sediment and phosphorus loading into Lake Geode in the future from agricultural and non-agricultural sources. With the beach closed this year, park management took the opportunity to renovate the campground as well.

With both projects in their final stages, Geode Watershed Coordinator Caleb Waters and Park Manager Ulf Konig are once again looking forward to a bustling state park in the spring and summer of 2019.

?Activity-wise, it?s an unusual year,? Konig said. ?The campground ? it?s kind of eerily quiet.?

Although visitors continue to take an interest in exploring the muddy lake bottom after it was drained, the lack of boating, fishing and swimming activities may have deterred some travelers this summer. But with new amenities and attractions to come, Konig has no doubt visitors will flock to Lake Geode once again in the spring.

Over the past three decades, water quality at Lake Geode has declined for a couple of reasons. The first is high levels of bacteria, possibly because of the Canada geese that have found a home on the beach over the years. Other bacteria concerns include the nearby livestock producers. The second reason was sedimentation, which decreased the surface area of the lake by 10 to 15 acres.

The Lake Geode Watershed Project is a coordinated effort with many partners including the Department of Natural Resources and the 170 farmers throughout the watershed area.

The project actually began close to a decade ago with outreach to area farmers and land owners to incorporate cover crops to prevent runoff into the watershed and promote ethical management practices.

?(The) total goal for the project is to implement as much conservation within the watershed up above the lake before we look into actually doing something in the lake,? Waters said.

The producers in the area have done a great job of implementing conservation on their land, an expensive endeavor that yields many returns. ?If (soil) is in the lake or road ditch or nearby stream, it?s not making any money,? Waters said.

Landowners can receive up to a 75 percent cost-share incentive to implement cover crops, which will hold the soil in place and keep it from running into the watershed.

With area producers doing their part, it was time to drain the lake and remove sediment that has built up over the years.

Draining the lake was a monthlong process in October of 2017. The plug was pulled on the lake kind of like pulling the plug on a bathtub, except way more complicated. Scuba divers were necessary to locate the ?plug? or plate under a layer of soil. The lake drained into Cedar Creek, which flows into the Skunk River.

Truckload by truckload, 200,000 cubic yards of sediment, about 10,000 dump truck loads, is being removed, Waters said. It is being taken to a ?spoil spot? about two miles away, where it will be seeded with a native grass mix. The native grass, which has a root structure of eight to 10 feet, will keep the soil in place.

The expected completion date for sediment removal is March 15, 2019. From there, it will take up to a year to refill the lake. Creating natural habitats for fish is also a part of the project.

?Mother Nature has a huge role in this project,? Waters said. ?Luckily enough, the brunt of this work was supposed to be completed this winter. At this point, we?re three to four months ahead of schedule.?

The project is being completed by Road Builders, Inc., a contractor out of Lincoln, Neb.

Over at the campsite, more electrical sites are being added with electrical upgrades and a new shower building is in place.

The renovations gave the state park a chance to remove ash trees affected by the emerald ash borer epidemic. Two hundred trees have been purchased to replace the ash trees including oak, maple and cedar trees.

The campground has an expected completion date of spring or summer 2019.