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Iowa River: How Low Can It Go?

Marsh, farm ponds, creeks all suffer from drought

December 7, 2012
By John Speer - Editor , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

Water levels in the Iowa River through the Tama area may not be at their lowest in history. But the are in the 20-year records kept since 1993 by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers - Rock Island District.

Brett Reece, Iowa Conservation officer for Tama and western Benton County, says the water in the Iowa River as well as streams and farm ponds "is certainly the lowest" in the eight years he has been assigned to the area.

Referred to as "gage" height, the water level at Tama on Monday was listed at 6.66 ft. It has been under 7 feet almost the entire time period since September, the obvious result of the ongoing drought being felt in Iowa and the midwest.

Article Photos

View upstream off the Longpoint bridge east of Tama shows vast area of the riverbed exposed in photo taken Nov. 27.
News-Herald photos/John Speer

Gilbert Chantland, 89, rural Tama, who has lived a couple of miles from the river all his life said he "can remember back in 1936 when you walked across the river you barely got your shoes wet." He joked the current state of the river bed "made me think about planting corn in it."

Reece said even with the low water depth in the Iowa River there are pockets of deep holes where fish can survive the winter. He said fish "migrate considerable distances to seek out deeper holes.

Farm ponds and the lack of oxygen available in shallow water in them are another matter, he says. Significant fish kill can be expected in them, he says.

Reece also reports the Otter Creek Marsh west of Chelsea is virtually without water except for one "pothole near the red barn,"

"There's no water fowl hunting," he said.

He said fur-bearing animals, especially muskrats are being affected by the lack of water as are turtles and other amphibious creatures.

The water levels at Tama do fluctuate and dip under 10-foot in height according to the Corps of Engineer records. However, 2012 is the only time found with a height below seven feet.

A period in 2005 at five feet was found by The News-Herald when reviewing the record. However, Tom Nock of the Rock Island Corp of Engineers said in a n email "the gage was not functioning properly during this timeframe." I have deleted the bad data."

 
 

 

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