Learn about the DNR's COVID-19 response and how the current health emergency is impacting DNR facilities, services and events.
Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge and Odessa WMA

The 6,465 acre Odessa Wildlife Complex is a unique backwater habitat of the Mississippi River located in southeast Iowa at the confluence of the Iowa and Mississippi Rivers near Wapello, Iowa.  The Odessa Complex is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers but management of the area has been out-granted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.  Odessa is divided into the 2,326 acre Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge (Louisa Division), managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the 4,139 acre Odessa Wildlife Management Area , managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Lake Odessa Throughout the Year

Shallow water is ideal for migrating waterfowl. Shallows warm up early and produce an abundance of invertebrates, which are the most important food of spring-migrating dabbling ducks. Shallow water also avoids saturation of tree roots and allows germination and growth of trees and other plant seeds on the higher ground. Shallow water is also important for feeding waterbirds like herons, egrets and pelicans along with reptiles and amphibians. Often, spring floods will raise the water to a level that is more than desirable for optimum wildlife use.

Lake Odessa WMA quick map, showing in SE section of state of Iowa

Lowering the water level in the summer exposes over a thousand acres of mudflats which are heavily used by shorebirds. These areas quickly germinate with a variety of moist soil plants, such as millets and sedges, that produce heavy crops of seeds that will be consumed by migratory waterfowl during fall and spring migrations, and are the main substrate for the following spring’s invertebrate populations. It also allows sprouting of additional buttonbush plants from exposed rootstock and germination of perennial wetland plants like arrowhead, bulrush, and lotus. Lowering the water level is also important for tree root growth and maintaining the health of the forest resource on Odessa. The remaining shallow water in the complex is heavily used by wading birds, as well as snakes and turtles. Often, prolonged summer flooding on the Mississippi and Iowa Rivers will delay or prevent the lowering of the Odessa water level, limiting the amount of annual food and cover that is produced.

The water level at Odessa is slowly raised throughout the fall. Gradually increasing the water level will continually make new habitat available to migrating waterfowl as the fall progresses and thousands of ducks, geese and other migratory birds use the cover, seeds produced, and invertebrates that are abundant in the moist-soil vegetation.

Water is returned to a moderate level to minimize ice damage to shorelines, trees, buttonbush and other vegetation. It also prevents saturation of tree roots over winter.  When possible, the inlet and outlet structures are opened to allow water to flow through the system to maintain acceptable levels of dissolved oxygen for fish, and also to maintain a few small areas of open water for migrating waterfowl.

The current Odessa water level gage reading at Schafer’s Access:

Odessa Water Level Gage

Lake Odessa
Lake Odessa, Wildlife Management Area
+ Odessa WMA - Hunting
+ Odessa WMA - Fishing
+ Odessa WMA - Camping
+ Odessa WMA - Boating
+ Odessa WMA - Wildlife Viewing
+ Odessa WMA - Migratory Birds and Water Level Mgt