Estimate of fish killed at Flat Branch increases to 14,000

Tuesday, April 10, 2012 | 9:57 p.m. CDT; updated 11:47 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 10, 2012
The Missouri Department of Conservation has been working to assess pollution damage following the fire at O'Reilly Auto Parts.

COLUMBIA — The estimated number of fish killed in Flat Branch Creek last week has skyrocketed from an initial estimate of 1,000 to 14,000.

The fish kill assessment finished up Tuesday as employees from the Missouri Department of Conservation assessed three sites along the creek. A two-man team sampled for live macro-invertebrates, such as crawfish, and insects with a larvae stage in water, such as dragonflies.

The survey of the creek began after water that was used to extinguish the April 1 fire at O'Reilly Auto Parts on Business Loop 70 drained into Flat Branch through the storm water utility system. 

The men scooped large mesh nets in Flat Branch at three different types of creek habitats within the reach of each of the three sites. They emptied the contents into plastic bins.

The samples will be examined under a microscope to look for live organisms that aren't big enough to see.

Rebecca O'Hearn, a resource scientist with the Department of Conservation and leader of the fish kill assessment, didn't expect to see much diversity in the organisms, especially with the many dead crawfish her team found last Friday.

There was a dead crawfish 10 inches long, she said.

Bill Mabee, a resource staff scientist for the Department of Conservation, was excited at the discovery of a live macro-invertebrate at the third site, a calopteryx, which is commonly called a damselfly.

Some larvae and worms were also found, said Seth Lanning, resource assistant with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

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Derrick Fogle April 10, 2012 | 10:47 p.m.

I hope this doesn't end up killing the huge snapping turtle that spends it's springtimes eating mulberries at the bridge next to the quarry swimming hole. Probably not, those things are tough; but it's mate disappeared a few years ago.

That creek has been wacked for years. I spend a lot of time around it because I ride the trail every day and frequently spend lunchtime relaxing at the low water bridge. I actually pay attention to it when I ride the trail. The siphon just past Stadium frequently completely dries the creek around the MLK memorial park. It often smells like sewage. It's always full of garbage and oily foam. There are warning signs at the MLK park bridge that the water is a festering bacterial soup.

I suppose it's a good thing an event like this has suddenly made others take interest in the creek, but it's been like this for a long time, and I don't think there's much that can be done about it. It's an urban runoff stream. Lesser die-offs happen every time we get significant runoff from streets and parking lots. To truly protect the creek, we'd have to kill downtown.

I'll be interested to see how quickly the creek recovers. By fall, I bet few people will be able to tell this ever happened. It's sad, to be sure, but it's not the end of the world or even the end of the creek.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 11, 2012 | 5:03 a.m.

May I ask a blunt question? Given a stream fed significantly by storm water runoff, why would we expect that stream to consistently support aquatic life? Any number of situations can occur, such as the recent fire in Columbia, to contaminate the stream at one or more of its sources.

Are we going to stop fighting commercial and residential fires when they occur in Columbia? I don't believe we are.

As for stream remediation, if we're going to remediate something let's first determine whether remediation is truly feasible and, if so, whether we can afford the cost.

Hell isn't the only locality "paved with good intentions."

(Report Comment)
Chris Cady April 11, 2012 | 10:41 p.m.

I'm just a bit disappointed no one was looking at the creek after the fire, and someone had to notice dead fish on Monday, two days after the fire. Maybe if the water had been tested immediately, it would have been possible to open a few hydrants and dilute the tail end of it so all the pools weren't full of water contaminated badly enough to kill everything. I guess I'm an armchair quarterback though. I'll admit it certainly wouldn't be feasible to try to carbon filter a million gallons of water on the fly with no advance warning.

(Report Comment)

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