Lake Delhi documentary recalls good, bad memories - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Lake Delhi documentary recalls good, bad memories

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A new documentary chronicling the loss and restoration of Lake Delhi is bringing up both good and painful memories for people in the lake area.

In July of 2010, heavy rains caused the Lake Delhi dam to break, sending the water and contents of the lake, including boats and docks, crashing down the Maquoketa River.

What was just three years ago a full and thriving lake is now simply another stretch of the Maquoketa River, snaking through an expansive lake bed overrun with vegetation. However, people with property on the lake are determined to bring the lake back, and a new documentary highlights that.

"I'm glad I watched it at home because I definitely cried my eyes out," lake resident Katie Schaetzle said Tuesday of the documentary.

Watching "We Will Be Back: The Lake Delhi Story" brought up memories of what the flood that broke the dam did to her family home.

"About 2:30 in the morning, we decided to leave because water was getting really close," she said. "Came back the next morning at, like, 5 a.m., and the water was completely about six feet up in the house."

The dam breach, shown in the documentary made by Dubuque husband-and-wife team Charlie and Mary Cunliffe, took with it a way of life for those on the lake.

"They know they're not a Katrina. They know they're not a Parkersburg," co-filmmaker Charlie Cunliffe said. "You know, a boat, a dock, it means nothing. Everybody experiences that. But the way of life that they share with generations, the stories of grandpas fishing with grandsons...are what really attracted us."

The Cunliffes interviewed some 60 people and gathered video of the lake before and after the devastation that cost many people on the lake belongings ranging from boats and docks to their homes.

"I'm not sure I can even describe the feelings I had when I saw my neighbors were going to lose their house," one man on the documentary said. He and his neighbors lived directly below the dam and experienced some of the worst of the devastation when it failed.

Rebuilding the dam will cost an estimated $14.8 million, with additional items such as lake bed repairs and public access bringing the total up to $23 million.

Lake area leaders have secured nearly $16 million dollars, between local donations ($1.7 million) and dollars from the lake taxing district (up to approximately $6 million), county (up to $3 million) and state ($5 million).

"We're just hoping that someday the lake's rebuilt because you can't replace the memories," Schaetzle said.

Leaders are now waiting on permits from the state and federal government before they may begin repairs.

The documentary "We Will Be Back: The Lake Delhi Story" has another showing June 15 in Manchester. That's at 3 p.m. at the Castle Theatre. Tickets are $10 and available either online or at Widner Drug in Manchester. Check out the film's website HERE for more information. The documentary is also for sale in DVD form.

Despite recent spring rains, the Iowa DNR says there's a reduced flood risk along the Maquoketa River for folks living on and above the lake, since the water is now far removed from homes. The DNR says the risk for folks living below the broken dam is the same as it was before the dam breach.

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