MANCHESTER — A proposed re-engineering of the Maquoketa River just upstream of this Delaware County city has been described as a win-win-win-win-win.
Project backers say removal of the obsolete Quaker Mill dam, coupled with the rebuilding of a breached levee above the dam, would return the wandering river to its original bed and allow it to flow freely, benefiting the environment, recreationists, the county, the city and the owners of the dam itself.
“This project has the biggest upside of any that we’ve undertaken,” said Nate Hoogeveen, director of river programs for the Department of Natural Resources.
Hoogeveen said he based his assessment on the river’s currently degraded condition and its potential to be one of the state’s finest stream sections.
“The time is now for the dam to go. It’s time to turn the river back into its natural state,” said Doug Hawker, whose 82-year-old dad, Willard Hawker, owns the dam and its surrounding property.
Boaters once plied the scenic mill pond above the dam, but those days are long gone, said Hawker, who described the area today as a silt-filled “wet desert,” inhospitable to aquatic life.
The pond disappeared on April 25, 2008, when the flooding Maquoketa River breached a levee just above the Quaker Mill dam and forged a new channel that joined Honey Creek to the east.
Delaware County, with assistance from the natural Resources Conservation Service, repaired the levee, returning the river to its original course over the Quaker Mill dam. But the same 2010 flood that took out the Lake Delhi dam also breached the rebuilt Quaker Mill levee, again leaving the old dam high and dry.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this month awarded a $67,000 grant to help restore the Quaker Mill section of the Maquoketa River. With the Hawker family, Delaware County and the DNR all supporting the project, backers believe it will proceed.
Dam history, future
Doug Hawker said the dam was built in the 1920s to generate electricity. His dad bought it and adjacent property in 1996, long after it had stopped serving a useful purpose.
Willard Hawker’s home near the dam sustained a combined $60,000 damage in 1999 and 2004 floods, according to his son, who said, “He wants to do whatever it takes to prevent future flood damage for him and his neighbors.”
Doug Hawker said removal of the Quaker Mill dam would dovetail with Manchester’s plan to remove its downtown dam and replace it with a white-water course.
Jack Klaus, executive director of the Manchester Area Chamber of Commerce, said replacing the Quaker Mill dam with a set of rapids would be an “invaluable adjunct” to the city’s white-water course, which is expected to open in early 2015.
“Having two sets of rapids two miles apart would be a great attraction,” he said.
DNR fisheries technician Greg Simmons, who has been surveying fish this summer in the river above Manchester, said that section of the stream is inhabited mostly by rough fish.
Removal of the two dams, he said, would improve fish habitat and allow game fish to migrate upstream.
Two of the Maquoketa’s major tributaries, Coffins Creek and Honey Creek, enter the river in the two-mile stretch between the dams.
The value of those streams as fisheries and fish nurseries also would be greatly increased by removal of the dams, Simmons said.
Honey Creek bridge
Delaware County Engineer Anthony Bardgett said the county’s main interest is protecting its bridge over Honey Creek on 195th Street.
That bridge was built to span a creek, but since the levee breach it has had to handle the combined flow of the river and the creek.
“We worry that the next flood could wash out the approaches,” Bardgett said.
Bardgett said cost estimates for the Quaker Mill project should be available next month. In the meantime, backers are preparing grant applications to secure funding.
Fundraising for the Manchester white-water course is nearly complete. with $600,000 of the $630,000 cost in hand, Klaus said.
Although backers had hoped to start work this fall, the more likely scenario, he said, is construction in the fall of 2014, with the opening in the spring of 2015.
At least three other Eastern Iowa dam projects could be completed yet this fall.
• Quasqueton Mayor Chad Staton said he expects work to begin in late August on the conversion of the town’s aging low-head dam on the Wapsipinicon River into a rock arch rapids. The $350,000 grant-funded project would eliminate dangerous undertows created by the dam, improve fish passage and enhance aesthetics and recreational opportunities.
“We got our last permit approved a couple of weeks ago, and we are hoping to have it done this fall,” Staton said.
The Quasqueton project also was awarded a $49,000 Fish and Wildlife Service grant in the agency’s latest round of fish habitat conservation projects.
• On the Turkey River at Elkader, work is expected to begin in September to convert a low-head dam into a white-water play feature, according to City Administrator Jennifer Cowsert.
Construction of the white-water feature will cost an estimated $257,000, with an additional $190,000 targeted for shoreline amenities to make the river more accessible, Cowsert said.
A second white-water feature farther downstream is under consideration, she said.
• A deteriorating and malfunctioning dam on the Shell Rock River at Rockford is scheduled to be removed by the end of October. In 2010 the DNR declared the 1872 dam in a state of failure and recommended it be repaired or removed. Floyd County Conservation Director Doug Schroeder said removal of the dam will eliminate a safety hazard, enable greater fish migration and improve access to the river.
The county has received a $30,000 grant from the DNR to remove the dam. The county also has money of its own set aside.