February 21, 2024

COLUMN: Another great idea

I was grateful for the few people last fall who appreciated my column about the county proposing to spend a portion of its American Rescue funds for building additional lodging at Three Mile Lake. I was in full support of the proposal, which was approved. Union County Conservation Director Doug Jones compared the concept to what is already at Lake Icaria north of Corning. Icaria has lodges big enough for larger families, or groups, to be housed all under the same roof and just steps or minute away from the lake.

Last week, while covering Creston City Council, it was asked to donate $50,000 to a Iowa Department of Natural Resources plan to make some improvements to Three Mile Lake. (See the Jan. 20 CNA). The work is largely funded by a grant and DNR representatives were asking the city and Union County for the same contribution. The county already has acquired an eligible $50,000 grant.

The city’s agenda was only for informative purposes that night; as it was not labeled to take action. I’m confident the city will make the donation after it only has to determine which file of funds to use. Maybe I should say, the city should make the donation. The lake stats that night were impressive with the tens of thousands of people visiting the thousands of hours and spending the cumulative millions of dollars. It is why people come to Union County.

We don’t have the navigable, scenic rivers like there are in northeast Iowa. We don’t have the topography of northeast Iowa. But people still come here because what Three Mile, 12 Mile and Green Valley have. Those lakes are an investment; not an expense or a liability.

I’ve seen what happens when lakes die. Yes, a lake can die. Some of those bodies of water in California were on life support after years of dry weather and no change in demand. The series of storms during the holidays left a lot water needing a place to go. It’s not over yet as feet of snow, sometimes by the day, are piling up in the Sierra mountains waiting its turn come spring.

I’ve seen what happens when lakes fail.

In September 2011 Colorado State Engineer Dick Wolfe informed the Bureau of Reclamation water will be drained from Bonny Lake, about a three hour drive east of Denver, for Colorado to comply with water usage agreements made New Year’s Eve 1942 with neighboring Nebraska and Kansas. I wrote for the nearby weekly paper. I covered a series of meetings about the water agreements which concluded with the release of the lake water. The meetings were a complicated mash of water science and legal words and phrases.

Bonny was built in the late 1940s, some 13 years after a freak, intense heavy downpour one night in May 1935 flooded along the Republican River. Flood damage followed the river’s flow through southern Nebraska into northern Kansas. To this day a storm of that magnitude hasn’t happened since. The lake was built along the flow of the river.

In its heyday, Bonny was like Three Mile. It was a place for people from Denver to go so they could just say they wanted an escape from the city. Those closer used the lake for a spot for family reunions and stay-cations before stay-cations were a thing. My wife learned to water ski there.

A store along U.S. Highway 385 near one of the lake’s entrances was typical for fishing, boating and camping needs. If there is no water; there is no family reunion or reason for a person to leave work early one afternoon for an escape. There is no reason to sell anything. Just two years ago, Bonny was a collection of rains and snowmelt and whatever plant life could exist. That part of Colorado has had a snow filled winter. It’s likely some of that water will reach the lake, but the sand-based soil will be selfish.

All I asked for Christmas last year was for 3-5 inches of wet snow every 7-10 days this winter to put more water back in Three Mile.

Before the plug was pulled on the dam and water released into the river, Bonny Reservoir had about 6,836 acre feet of water. One acre foot of water is 325,851 gallons. The plan was leave about 50 acre feet.

Creston and Union County should plan to do whatever is needed to preserve and improve those lakes.

John Van Nostrand


An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.