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A Dramatic Sign Of How Dry It's Been Lately: For The First Time In Five Years, Water Is Not Flowing Out Of The Iowa Great Lakes Chain

Tue 8-25-2020

(Orleans)-- The lack of rain this summer is having a stark impact on water levels on the Iowa Great Lakes. Mike Hawkins, a fisheries biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources tells KUOO news that for the first time in years, water is no longer flowing out of the Iowa Great Lakes chain...Low Water01 

"The Okoboji chain had been flowing water for about 1,774 days straight, or just under five years. We came close the crest elevation of the dam at Lower Gar in September of last year but then shot up. As you know we had a real wet fall and early winter last winter and the lakes shot up about eight inches so it kept things flowing. That's the longest wet period that we've had in the Okoboji's. it was the longest period that we've been over crest. The next closest was back, started in September of 1991 and lasted until October of 1994, and that included the flood year of 1993. But that was only about 2.8 years or 1,019 days, so."

So what's the longest the lakes have been below crest level?...Low Water02 

"It appears the longest dry period for the lakes was back in, started in September, excuse me. It started in July of 1955. We reached 46 inches low on the Okoboji's so almost four feet low on the Okoboji's on September 20th of 1959 and then finally got back to crest elevation on May 7th of 1961, so over 2,100 days below crest. That's almost six years of no flow over the spillway, so we've seen some extremes through the years but, and it seems like we've just seen a fairly good extreme of high water here over the last five years."

Hawkins says a review of the long term data indicates the low levels appear to occur on a more cyclical basis than the high levels...Low Water03 

"It looks like we have dry periods back in the late '50's. We had another one in the mid 1960's; again in the mid '70's; right before '93; 1990 was a real low water year, we were 27, it looks like almost 30 inches below crest right before the flood events, so it looks like there's more of a little bit of a pattern in dry periods but those dry periods haven't been as severe as maybe they were historically back in the '50's and '60's."

Hawkins says so far the drop hasn't been enough to require most people to extend docks, but he says that could change should the dry conditions continue.

Photos show that for the first time in years, the spillway at the south end of Big Spirit Lake is not running; nor is there water going over the dam at the Lower Gar Outlet.