LANSING - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) joined members of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), Friends of Pool 9, and various contractors to celebrate the completion of two restoration projects in the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.
Those two projects are in the Harper’s Slough, and on Conway Lake, near Lansing, Iowa.
“In my 36 years as Commander of USACE St. Paul, we have undertaken 55 projects on the river between Minneapolis and St. Louis, and accomplished restoration of over 100,000 acres,” Colonel Carl Jansen explained. “Our proven track record with these projects has resulted in the appropriation from Congress being increased from the typical $33 million to $55 million.”
Jansen explained that their work demonstrates that the cultural, ecological and economic significance of the Mississippi River can co-exist. He said that the Corp’s work, along with their many partners demonstrates that “we can be good stewards of the environment.”
Jansen said that in order to accomplish these restoration projects, it takes a team. That team is made up of Congress who makes the appropriations to support the work, state and federal partners such as USFWS, IDNR and WDNR, the USACE team, the contractors that help to complete the projects, and local partnerships with groups like Friends of Pool 9.
Contractors that worked on the projects included Kaiyuh Services LLC – Conway Lake Habitat Rehabilitation and Enhancement Project (HREP) (prime contractor); J. F. Brennan Company Inc. – Conway Lake Habitat (HREP subcontractor); Water Works Marine Inc. – Harper’s Slough Repair HREP (prime contractor); and Michels Corporation – Harper’s Slough Repair HREP (subcontractor).
The Harper Slough project, just upstream of Lock and Dam 9, near Lynxville, protects existing islands and constructs additional islands using material from the backwater and main channel.
The project will slow the loss of existing islands, reduce the flow of sediment-laden water into the backwaters, reduce turbidity and increase the diversity of land and shoreline habitats.
Habitat restoration work was completed in 2017, but historic flooding in 2018 and 2019 prevented the constructed islands from establishing vegetation. In total, the project restored 1,680 acres of aquatic and island habitat.
Problems the project was designed to address are as follows:
“The Harpers Slough Closed Area is a valuable habitat, used heavily by tundra swans, Canada geese, puddle and diving ducks, black terns, nesting eagles, bitterns and cormorants. The area is significant as a fish nursery area. Many of the channel border islands have been eroded or lost because of wind- and boat-generated waves and ice movement. The reduction and loss of these islands allows more turbulence in the backwater area, resulting in degradation of valuable fish and wildlife habitat. Continued loss of the islands will result in less productive habitat for both fish and wildlife.”
The Conway Lake project, just upstream of Highway 82 on the river, includes the construction of floodplain forests and berms created from main channel dredging stockpiles. The project enhances habitat, improves dissolved oxygen in the lake, and improves winter bird habitat conditions. Work began in the fall of 2020, and construction is complete with additional plantings scheduled for this spring. In the project, 1,170 acres of aquatic and floodplain forest habitat were restored.
Problems the project was designed to address are as follows:
“During times of normal pool levels, Conway Lake becomes land-locked and there is very little water flow through the lake. After high water events, fish are trapped in the lake. Low dissolved oxygen levels occur in late summer and winter, creating unsuitable fish habitat. Shallow depths and high fertility cause excessive aquatic plant growth in about 90 percent of the lake. Shore Slough also experiences poor fish habitat conditions because of flow from the Lansing Bottoms. Sedimentation and excessive current negatively impacts on its value for wintering schools of fish (primarily bluegill) and turbidity creates poor water quality the entire year.”
U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Sabrina Chandler, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Upper Mississippi River Refuge Manager was on-hand for the ribbon-cutting event and Earth Day celebration.
“These two projects have been a long time in coming, with more than 70 percent of the work completed,” Chandler said. “The work took lots of preparation, coordination and communication in project development, along with coordinating with our contractor partners and flexing to Mother Nature.”
Chandler explained that the work on the Harper’s Slough was essentially completed in 2017 at a cost of $11 million, but then they experienced the record Mississippi River floods of 2018 and 2019. Spending an additional $2.4 million, needed repair work was completed, and the result is resilient islands.
Chandler explained that the Conway Lake project, at a cost of $5.4 million, has resulted in floodplain forest restoration, berms and enhancement of wildlife habitat.
Friends of Pool 9
Larry Quamme of the Friends of Pool 9 Board was on-hand to join in the Earth Day celebration. He spoke about the history of the Friends group, and the work that they engage in as partners in caring for the Upper Mississippi River National Fish & Wildlife Refuge.
“Friends of Pool 9 was formally incorporated as a 501C3 non-profit in 2006, when we received approval from the Iowa Secretary of State,” Quamme said. “Our mission is to be a friend of the USFWS, and today we have over 800 members and 14 members of our board of directors.”
Quamme said that each year the group helps with events such as the Spring Clean Up, Mississippi River Adventure Day for students, and the annual Eagle Count. The group also makes charitable donations to help with restoration projects, such as the $5,000 contribution made to assist with the Conway Lake project.
Quamme said that the Friends group had just completed another five-year agreement with USFWS, and is involved in planning for the 100-year anniversary of the Refuge.
“Through our work, we have documented 192 eagle’s nests in the Pool 9 stretch of the river, which may be the most ever,” Quamme said. “We also have over 100 volunteers signed up this year for our Spring Clean Up event.”