Odessa hunters should plan ahead for lower water levels this fall

Aug. 29, 2019

Iowa Department of Natural Resources - News Release


      Wapello, Iowa - The water level at Lake Odessa will not be raised to normal 

levels for the 2019 Iowa waterfowl season to allow the area’s diverse forest resource to 

recover after prolonged major flooding by the Mississippi River. 

      Trees and wetlands shrubs at the Odessa Wildlife Management Area and the 

adjacent Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge have been increasingly impacted by 

flooding from the Mississippi River with the most recent flood events beginning in late 

September 2018 when floodwaters over-topped the emergency spillway and exceeded 

Odessa’s normal fall water level by nearly 12 feet. 

      Floodwaters remained until the river dropped to normal in December, then 

returned again in mid-March, inundated the entire Odessa flood protection levee, and 

lasted for a significant majority of the growing season. The spring flooding was the 

fourth highest recorded on the Mississippi River at the New Boston gage, and was 

within 1/10 of one foot from being the third highest. As a result, Odessa reached levels 

almost 16 feet above normal in early June during this prolonged flood event. 

      Those back to back major floods are compounding the stress on the trees and 

shrubs near the wetlands, said Ben Vandermyde, forester with the U.S. Army Corps of 

Engineers Rock Island District. 

      “Tree roots need to dry out in order to rebuild and repair ahead of the next 

growing season,” Vandermyde said. For now, the trees are doing what they can to 

reduce the stress on their roots by casting off some of their foliage and while there will 

likely be some tree mortality; Vandermyde said the extent won’t be known until next 


      “If there ever was a time to give the trees and shrubs a break, it’s now,” said 

Andy Robbins, wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. 

      Water level management at Odessa is important because of the areas reputation 

as one of Iowa’s premier waterfowl hunting locations drawing hunters from all over 

eastern Iowa and western Illinois. It is also an extremely important stopover point for 

thousands upon thousands of migratory birds as they make their way through the 

Mississippi Flyway each spring and fall.

      Robbins said that while many areas will still be accessible by boat this season, 

waterfowl hunters wanting to get back to their normal spots will need to make some 

adjustments in the way they hunt. “The area will still be huntable, but hunters will need 

to use small boats or mud motors to get around. The larger boats will have trouble,” 

Robbins said.

      In addition to the damage cause to the trees and shrubs, the prolonged high 

water has prevented the establishment of wild millet, smartweed, sedges, and other 

waterfowl attracting moist-soil vegetation.

      Buttonbush, known locally as buck brush, is a unique and important wetland 

shrub at Lake Odessa that provides cover and food for duck broods. It is also showing 

signs of stress. Keeping water off buttonbush is important for recovery because it’s 

pretty resilient, if given a chance, said Marcie Kapsch, refuge manager at Port Louisa 

National Wildlife Refuge with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

      The Odessa complex is managed in partnership by the Iowa Department of 

Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Army Corps of 

Engineers and all agree that the decision to not put additional water on the area this fall 

is in the best interest long term for habitat and wildlife that depends on it. 

      Meanwhile, the partnering agencies will shift their focus to repairing damaged 

portions of their respective flood protection levees, including a significant 1,200 foot 

levee break in the Port Louisa refuge caused by this spring’s flood.   The DNR is 

currently planning to lend assistance to the USFWS during the repair process.