Des Moines Public Works Watershed Journey to Restore Easter Lake
The City of Des Moines, Iowa is a leader in the development, planning, and execution of efforts to improve water quality and flood management both within city limits and outside of its jurisdictional boundaries. The development and execution of the Easter Lake Watershed Water Quality Management Plan (Plan) is an exciting example of the watershed collaboration efforts that Des Moines is taking a leadership role in – a partnership that features the City, the County, a county-wide District, two State agencies, two Federal agencies, and even the local neighborhood association.
The Easter Lake watershed is a wide swath of the south side of Des Moines. It is a 6,380-acre watershed that drains to Easter Lake, a 178-acre lake that was constructed in 1967. The water quality of the lake had diminished over the years due to increased loads of nutrients and sediment as development occurred around the lake and in the watershed. The lake’s poor water quality impacted the fishery in the lake and the water’s “chocolate milk” appearance impacted the public’s interest in using this important natural resource. In response, area stakeholders worked together to develop the Plan.
The Plan included structural management practices to improve water quality including lake dredging and streamway improvements. It also included non-structural programmatic best management practices across the basin to encourage private property owners to adopt management solutions to reduce non-point pollutant loads such as residential rain gardens.
In addition, there were many fishery improvements made to Easter Lake that included spillway improvements, fish habitat installation, repairs to the existing fish rearing pond, and a fish restock in 2019-2020 which included over 550,000 fish being reintroduced into the lake by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
While the Plan appears to have achieved its aim – the water is clear and safe for wildlife and people alike and visits to the lake have more than doubled – the ultimate measure of success will be the delisting Easter Lake as an impaired water. Due to the number of years of sampling that are required to delist a lake, the earliest that could occur is 2028. Nevertheless, based on all the collaborative efforts of the many partners in the watershed, Easter Lake is well on its way to achieving that goal, serving as a testament to the power of working together.
NACWA awarded the City of Des Moines Public Works a 2021 National Environmental Achievement Award in the Watershed Collaboration category for its effective efforts to improve water quality. Congratulations to everyone involved!