POCAHONTAS - In its earlier days, Lizard Lake was home to many species of fish. In the 1950s, it was even the site of speed boat races.
Since then, an increase in sediment at the bottom of the rural Pocahontas County lake has decreased its maximum depth to less than 7 feet and an overpopulation of carp has left the fishing less than desirable.
That is something that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and some Pocahontas County residents would like to see changed. For others, it's something they would prefer be left alone.
Individuals both for and against the Lizard Lake Improvement Project packed the Pocahontas County Expo Center Tuesday evening to share their thoughts and be brought up to speed by DNR officials on the plans for the lake's future.
"I get that you all really love this lake," said Richard Leopold, Iowa DNR director. "It's not meeting its intended uses. I see something that could be a lot more than it is now."
According to Mike McGhee, the Iowa lakes program manager for the DNR, a 1916 study of Lizard Lake - which is a natural glacial lake - showed that the lake had a mean depth of 3 to 4 feet.
When an outlet was built in the mid-1930s, the lake's depth was raised by about 2 feet. Those figures are believed to have changed significantly as close to 2 feet of sediment has re-deposited itself on the lake's bottom over the course of 50 years, making today's average mean depth on the 275-acre lake just over 4 feet.
"One of the goals of the Shallow Lakes Management Project is that we would like to see water clarity of about 4 to 5 feet in these lakes during the months of April through September," said McGhee. "Right now, the average water clarity of Lizard Lake is only around 9 inches."
McGhee said that the cost of shallow lake management, which is a process that slowly lowers the water levels of a lake to allow sediment to settle, undesirable fish to die off and vegetation to grow, would cost about $400,000 on Lizard Lake. That is in comparison to an estimate of from $7 million to $11 million to dredge the lake.
Mark Gulick, a regional wildlife supervisor for the DNR, said that lowering the lake's water levels with the project would allow the lake to function better.
Gulick reported that a study conducted by John Downing at Iowa State University concluded that Lizard Lake had poor water clarity, heavy concentrations of blue-green algae, an overabundance of carp and an absence of rooted aquatic plants.
"We're looking at a sick lake, and we need to see what we can do to repair it," Gulick said. "Once a lake becomes turbid, it will remain that way until something drastic is done."
Some who use Lizard Lake for fishing, boating and canoeing fear the improvement project will reduce the lake's shoreline and make it less accessible for such activities.
Richard Buske, of Fort Dodge, is one of those opposed to the project. His family has owned property on Lizard Lake for generations, and would rather see the lake left alone.
"It would be almost impossible to fish it," he said. "They say it's filled with silt and needs cleaned, but we say leave it as it is because at least now we have a lake."
Buske said the family has been fishing and swimming in the lake for several years.
"It's a beautiful body of water that has fish," he said. "We've been fishing and swimming in it all our lives. The Buske Estates on Lizard Lake has kept our family getting together, and if the lake changes I don't know what will happen."
Lannie Miller, a fisheries biologist with the DNR said he hopes a restoration project would increase opportunities at Lizard Lake.
"We know we can provide a better fishery with shallow lake management," he said. "It may not be a motor boat lake, but there are many recreational opportunities to be had. We look forward to extending recreational opportunities at Lizard Lake."
Contact Emilie Nelson at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org