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For nearly a century a myth has circulated that West Okoboji is one of only three blue water lakes in the world, the others being Lake Geneva in Switzerland and Lake Louise in Canada.
Articles stating various versions of this information as fact have appeared in newspapers as recently as 2009, and in numerous publications and websites. One could argue until they are blue in the face, but this claim is all wet.
Legend has it National Geographic first gave that moniker to West Okoboji, but no record of such an article can be found. Others ponder whether a scientific study done in the early 20th century comparing West Okoboji and one of the most famous lakes in the world—Lake Geneva— sprouted the claim. Theories suggest local leaders played on that comparison to attract more visitors.
The clear truth is, “blue water lake” is not a scientific term, and in fact, carries no real definition. The term blue water has, however, been associated with areas that enjoy exceptional water quality, because when sunlight penetrates these pure waters, other wavelengths (colors) are absorbed more strongly than blue. Most natural waters contain dissolved organic matter that selectively absorbs blue wavelengths.
Although there is no scientific basis that West Okoboji is a blue lake, scientists and non-scientists alike agree the lake has exceptional water quality and color, and is one of only a handful of waterbodies included on the DNR’s Outstanding Iowa Waters list.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of Iowa Outdoors magazine. Subscribe now and find more on our Iowa Outdoors Magazine board on Pinterest.