Saylorville Lake History Essay

Saylorville Lake is a man-made reservoir, which project was adopted in 1958. The Des Moines River, the region of Des Moines city, was always famous for its great floods – some examples which prove this fact are floods of 1851, 1903, 1938 and 1944 years. The United State Senate in general and the Committee on Commerce in particular, decided to organize flood protection system. As a result, in 1958 the US Army of Engineers constructed an artificial lake under the direction of the Congress. It was approximately 11 miles away from the city and was planed as an additional storage to control the power of floods. “The principal purpose of the Saylorville project is to provide additional storage to supplement the flood control capacity of Lake Red Rock downstream and help reduce flood crests on the Des Moines and Mississippi Rivers” (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). Being the main flood protection of the city Des Moines this lake plays an extremely important role in the organization of the city even nowadays.

The lake started fully operating only in September 1977, when it reached a conservation pool of 833 ft. The area of the lake was 5,950 acres at that time. A bit earlier, in 1967 the first section of the lake earth embankment on the west side was constructed, while the construction of the final section took place in the 1970s and was finished in October 1975.  The concrete outlet works for the lake started in May 1967 and came to the end in December 1971.

The Saylorville project including the planning and structure of the lake was carefully examined and tested only in 1984. At that time the level height of the dam was 889.29 ft. The results of texts were the following: the structure of the lake caused erosion below the spillway and so additional area was required. Following the directions, the Saylorville Gorge was constructed, the territory of which was even extended in April 1993 in order to decrease the water level. As a result, the spillway height was 884 ft. m.s.l (cited in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).

The lake is 105 ft. high, 44 ft. wide at the top and 6,750 ft. long. Its outlet channel is 22 ft. in diameter and it is located at the bottom of west part. The capacity of releasing an outflow is about 21,000 c.f.s. The structure of the control system does not presume the usage of hydroelectric power. 21,000 c.f.c. outflows are a rare phenomenon, the average figures of outflows fluctuate between 200 c.f.s. and 6,000 c.f.s. (cubic feet of water per second), cited in Scientific Assessment and Strategy Team. Such extreme fluctuations cannot provide constant electricity and that is why construction of a hydroelectric system here would have been unprofitable. “The full flood control pool at 890 m.s.l. is 54 miles long and covers 16,700 acres. This maximum flood elevation is 54 ft. above the normal lake level of 836 ft. m.s.l” (Hass). The constructed emergency spillway is practically a passive system, which is utilized only when the lake level reaches 884 m.s.l.

Despite the flood control function, Saylorville Lake also has other aims. There are a number of projects which control the quality of the habitat and improve the conditions of existence all the time. Water quality is also a problem of great attention which is solved through the siltation of soil into the dam. Except this fact, the lake is also used as a water supplier for the city Des Moines in the case of drought.

Moreover, it provides a great variety of recreational opportunities.

Saylorville Lake is one of the main tourist attractions among all the attractions in Des Moines. It provides a range of recreational activities for tourists. Its main advantage is its location ”“ tourists can easily reach this magic aquatic place on the earth because it is just about ten minutes from Des Moines’ downtown. The well-developed web of railway stations and roads will make no problems to get there. Its recreational aqua activities include angling, fishing, swimming, boating, hiking, hunting etc. Its great territory of about 5,950 acres provides great opportunities for camping. The owners of the lake propose such types of camping: group camping, non-electric campsites, dump station and pull through campsites. Picnics are also another attractive feature of Saylorville lake. Picnic opportunities include picnic area, picnic shelter and group picnic. The numerous trails include equestrian trails, bike trails, miscellaneous trails, hiking trails, off road vehicle trails, etc. There you can also find a well-equipped beach and a swimming pool. Tourists also visit the magnificent Saylorville with great pleasure, which is famous for its breathtaking view. Near Saylorville Lake two unique golf courses of Des Moines are located, known as Tournament Club and Jester Park.

“Constructed 344 km from the Des Moines River mouth the main idea behind the lake’s construction was to control and to put a check on the flood situation. However its overall importance on the city’s drainage is now an understatement because its appeal to the tourists has reached grand proportions” (McDonald). Today the lake’s control function has become the secondary purpose of the lake despite just in the 80s it was its primary and the only purpose. As it was already mentioned, attractive landscape, good location and numerous recreational aqua activities attract 1,205,772 tourists a year and provide money not only for restoration activities but also make a great outcome.

Saylorville Lake, being one of the Corps Lakes, is the ownership of the US Army Corps of Engineers. They hold the management of the lake involving a great number of volunteers not only from the USA but also from all over the world. The main aim of the lake is to provide economic, social and environmental benefits for all the citizens of the country. Corps managing recreational and national resources at Saylorville Lake fulfill a lot of aims. Providing facilities and attracting people they involve citizens in the physical activities solving health problem. Such activities also strengthen relations in the families and it solves a social problem in such a way.

The money spent by the visitors on the territory of the lake provide the income to the local and national economy (68% of the income makes the direct sales effects). “With multiplier effects, visitor trip spending resulted in: $28.73 million in total sales; $15.11 million in value added (wages & salaries, payroll benefits, profits and rents and indirect business taxes); Supported 353 jobs in the local community surrounding the lake” (Hass). Part of the income is also directed to support some non-governmental environmental organizations and communities which are lack of money.

The benefits for the environment are undisputable: the lake provides 39 shoreline miles, 5,950 water acres, 25,515 land acres and about 7,000 environmental contacts (cited in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). Recreation activities which are held give an opportunity to learn more about environmental issues, motivate people to participate in these problems solving and develop the feeling of tolerance and sensitivity towards environment and other people.


To sum up, Saylorville Lake covers a territory of about 6,000 acres and is located 11 miles from the city of Des Moines. Initially, it was constructed to serve as a flood control system for the River of Des Moines, which was famous for its dangerous floods. Its project was worked out in 1956 but was fully realized only in the late 1980s. Today this lake being managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers provides a great range of recreational aqua activities for tourists. It attracts more than one million tourists a year. Tourist business makes a great number of social, environmental and economic benefits. A lot of volunteers from the United States and even other countries are involved in the organizational and management activities. Among the most popular activities which are utilized there are biking, fishing, boating, hiking, hunting, swimming, etc. The area around the lake provides enough place for camping and picnics. Moreover, near Saylorville Lake two exquisite golf fields are located. Saylorville Lake, one of the Corps Lakes, makes a great profit and contributes not only to the local economy but also to the economy of the whole country. It can be explained by the clever management of the lake’s resources.

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