Some Iowa landowners could lose their homes and farms because local governments want to build a reservoir for recreational purposes – a move critics say is in violation of state law.
The landowners allege that the Clarke County Reservoir Commission is using exaggerated fears of a water shortage in order to use eminent domain to take their property. The properties of 58 landowners are at issue.
“This was accomplished by grossly over-exaggerating future water needs — making up huge water users that will never materialize,” property owner Doug Robins wrote to The Des Moines Register. “All this at the expense of landowners. Some will lose their entire farm, and others, as in my family’s case, will lose 100 acres or more.”
Robins is referring to plans by the city of Osceola and the commission to seize 2,040 acres of property in the Squaw Creek Watershed from 58 landowners. The property would be flooded to create a reservoir. The city and the commission contend that the reservoir is needed because Osceola and other communities in the area south of Des Moines are running out of water.
Farms Being Seized for Marina?
“Will they have some sort of boating and a marina? Of course they will. But that’s up to the DNR (Department of Natural Resources),” Osceola Mayor Fred Diehl said. “But if (landowners) think we’re building this for recreation, they’re crazy. I know in my heart we’re going to need this water.”
Robins and some of his neighbors believe the real intent is to create a place for boating and other recreational activities that would boost property values and the local economy. They’re accusing officials of trying to do an end run around a state law that prevents governments from using eminent domain to seize property for reservoirs built for recreational purposes. The law allows governments to seize land only for reservoirs built for water supply purposes.
There is an existing water source, Arbor Valley Lake, which the commission can tap without resorting to eminent domain, Robins and neighbors Cindy Sanford and Kathy Kelly contend. Diehl, though, says that option would be just as expensive and also impractical.
“You’d have to completely dismantle the lake, move the dam, and create a whole new body of water,” Diehl said of the Arbor Valley site. “More than that, you’d have to start all over. It would be just as expensive, plus it would set us back seven or 10 years.”
Excess Water Supply Might Not Be Needed
The dam project is being considered in part because Central Iowa and Greater Des Moines are in the midst of an economic boom, supporters of the reservoir say. Microsoft and Facebook are among the giant companies building new data centers in Iowa.
Some experts say local utilities won’t be able to supply all the water necessitated by that growth. Diehl claims that Osceola regular takes more water from its existing reservoir than it is legally permitted to. The city has not taken out more water than it is legally permitted to, Denise Alt of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources told The Register.
The commission also claimed that the Des Moines area, which is around 40 miles from the reservoir site, is running out of water, meaning that the reservoir would be necessary to supply water to the city. The director of Des Moines Water Works (the city’s water utility), Bill Stowe, told The Register that his organization has plenty of water.
Despite that, Robins claims the size of the reservoir was doubled when plans were revised. The original plans were for a 359-acre reservoir but it was expanded to 834 acres. Robins contends the purpose of the larger lake is for recreation.
“Our legal counsel says there’s nothing in Iowa law that would restrict a water supply from being used for recreation,” the reservoir project’s coordinator, Dave Beck, said.