Lake Delhi neighbors break ground on new dam - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Lake Delhi neighbors break ground on new dam

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A groundbreaking ceremony Thursday marked the start of reconstruction of the Lake Delhi dam A groundbreaking ceremony Thursday marked the start of reconstruction of the Lake Delhi dam

Lake Delhi is now one significant step closer to coming back to eastern Iowa.

Nearly 200 people gathered at the broken dam Thursday afternoon for a groundbreaking ceremony. That's outside the city of Delhi in Delaware County.

In July of 2010, flooding from heavy rains broke the Lake Delhi dam, sending the lake and all its contents crashing down the Maquoketa River.

Since then, the loss of the lake has hurt the area in many ways, from a sharp decrease in lake-area property values - which, in terms of taxes, hurt local school funding - to a hit in the local economy, when lake tourism suddenly evaporated.

Neighbors and stakeholders attending Thursday's event said the groundbreaking ceremony marks a goal nearly four years in the making.

Construction has just begun on the Lake Delhi dam. It's a sight for sore eyes.

"It's good to see something happening after a long process of red tape and ordeal getting something started," lake neighbor Greg Bandfield said.

He has lived on the lake for more than 30 years and said the area was visibly hurt when the lake went away.

"Last four years, almost, in July, it's been very quiet down here," Bandfield said. "It used to be a very busy, active place in the summer, and it's like somebody pulled the plug."

Boat lifts still litter the now-dry lake bed, and houses that used to be right on the lake are now high and dry. Through the lake bed snakes the Maquoketa River, the lake's source when the dam was standing.

Linda Dempster lives downriver from the lake, but she and her husband own businesses that rely on traffic from lake visitors.

"This day means-- It's exciting. It's so exciting," Dempster said, becoming emotional. "It's been four years, and hopefully we'll have water soon. Our businesses that we have are going to thrive, our schools...It's all going to look up."

Steve Leonard has been one of the leaders in the fight to rebuild the dam and restore Lake Delhi, as board president for the Lake Delhi Combined Water Quality and Recreational Facility District, which is essentially the lake's taxing district of some 850 properties.

Standing with umbrella in hand on Thursday's rainy afternoon, following the groundbreaking ceremony, Leonard said, "These raindrops are kind of like tears of joy for our whole community to get this lake back and to get our community back up and running, and I'm just speechless."

He said the lake may be restored as early as next summer.

"Not only visitors will come back, but I know the the residents that haven't really been here much are already starting," Leonard said. "There's a lot of reconstruction work for shoreline walls, brand new homes, reconstruction of homes, repairing their flooded homes."

Funding for the lake's restoration comes in part from people living in the taxing district. Other funding streams include private donations, state dollars and county dollars.

In order to secure some of that funding, lake officials had to include additional public access points in rebuilding plans, since Lake Delhi is a public body of water.

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