Affirming the future

Voters in the Sioux Central School District affirmed the school’s future Tuesday by overwhelmingly supporting a $7.5 million bond issue that will build new classrooms, a gym and football field on the central campus just south of Sioux Rapids. They understand that Sioux Central is one of the rare rural districts with growing enrollment thanks to a younger demographic fueled by location and by the presence of Rembrandt Enterprises, the huge egg supplier that has been expanding through the years.

A 77% voter approval gives the school board a green light to consolidate operations around the central facility. No voting district (Linn Grove, Peterson, Sioux Rapids, Rembrandt and Webb) came in under the required threshold of 60% support for the bond issue.

A similar bond issue with a different financing mechanism failed. The school board this time around used a straight bond issue based on property taxes that is easily understood. Best understood: Property taxes will not go up with the $7.5 million issue because bonds from the original Sioux Central construction are being retired. Voters indicated they are willing to carry the current tax burden so long as the district is moving forward.

Declining populations of families at child-rearing stage across rural Iowa spell doom for many rural school districts that are running out of options for district finances. By virtue of its location halfway between Storm Lake and Spencer, plus the growth of food and related by-products manufacturing within the district, Sioux Central would appear to be poised to be a district of the future.

Sioux Central’s plan allows more space for special education. It will replace the football stadium at Albert City, lamentably, so students are not being shuttled to and fro every day. The new sports/physical education facilities will reduce transportation costs and make phys ed programs more efficient. Note that Albert City-Truesdale School District patrons are not assessed taxes under the bond issue. AC-T shares with, but is not merged with, Sioux Central.

The bond issue is a fairly good bet on the next 20 years of service for Sioux Central.

Worth hearing, but …

It’s good that the Lake Improvement Commission is keeping an open mind about how to reduce wave action in Storm Lake for better water clarity. The minds at Iowa State University are thinking about how a new island on the west side of the lake could prevent resuspension of silt from constant waves stirring up the bottom. A report is expected this summer.

ISU is home to some great engineers and hydrologists. So it is worth hearing what they have to say.

But you do not need a PhD to understand that mud is the problem, not wind.

Storm Lake was formed some 14,000 years ago when the glacier scoured a hole in its retreat that left clear water in a bowl with a blue clay bottom. Surveyors notes from the 1850s describe a crystal-clear body of water with boulder-lined banks in a shroud of tallgrass prairie that held soil in place.

We ripped out the boulders to build with, and ripped out the prairie to farm with. By 1914 the State Highway Commission was recommending dredging as mud flowed into the lake. Two relatively small projects, by today’s standards, removed some silt from the lake in the 1930s and again in the 1960s. The current dredging started just over 10 years ago.

Along comes a report from ISU a couple years ago detailing how soil erosion rates into Northwest Iowa lakes actually picked up speed since 1980 as crop production continued to intensify. Such erosion has largely killed Lizard Lake in Pocahontas County and Pickerel Lake near Marathon. Others are not long for this world.

Man-made islands are no match for the beating they take from wind, waves and ice. Eventually any such construction is likely to slough back into the lake, as the Big Island is.

We know that the clay bottom in the lake is up to 26 feet deep under water. We understand that if the lake were dredged to an average depth of 14 feet, wave action would not resuspend silt. In short, remove the mud and the waves don’t matter.

Dredging is expensive. We understand that. But there have been great economic benefits secured over the centuries by turning the prairie into the most productive corn complex in the world. One would think that Iowa could afford to protect its best lakes — Storm Lake is the top walleye lake in Iowa — with regular maintenance and protection. Maintenance involves dredging. Protection involves better and more widespread soil conservation practices. It also involves, in our minds, deepening Little Storm Lake and working with its current layout to prevent further siltation of Big Storm Lake from Powell Creek.

That’s the plan Storm Lake needs. More dredging. Better conservation. Secured by the state.