Missouri Conservation Department to monitor Flat Branch after fish kill

Wednesday, April 18, 2012 | 8:27 p.m. CDT; updated 7:32 a.m. CDT, Thursday, April 19, 2012
Seth Lanning, resource assistant for the Missouri Department of Conservation, opens labeled jars for a macro-invertebrate sample taken at Flat Branch on Tuesday. Lanning and other members of the Conservation Department have been working to assess pollution damage following a fire at O'Reilly Auto Parts that led to a 14,000-count fish kill in the creek.

COLUMBIA — For at least the next three years, the Missouri Department of Conservation will conduct a study on the recovery of the Flat Branch from the recent fish kill there.

The purpose of the study is to track how long it takes for the stream, fed in part by downtown storm drains, to heal itself, said Rebecca O'Hearn, a Conservation Department scientist who investigated the death of nearly 15,000 of the creek's fish.


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O'Hearn will lead a field team while Matt Combes, a Conservation Department scientist based in Kirkwood, analyzes the data she collects.

The opportunity to study how quickly aquatic life repopulates a creek doesn't come up often, O'Hearn said — maybe once in a career.

There won't be an end point when the stream has recovered, Combes said. But the information will help understand how urban streams recover from pollution incidents.

Each season, O'Hearn will sample fish at three different points on the creek. These points are the same as the area she sampled for the fish kill. Fish are caught with a large mesh net, called a seine haul, which extends across the length of the stream. With people holding it on each side, the net is dug into the creek bottom to shake up sediment and trap fish. Each fish species is catalogued and returned to the stream.

Macro-invertebrates, like crawfish and insects with a larvae stage in the water, will be sampled twice a year, in the spring and fall. The research will identify which aquatic species repopulate the stream first, and how quickly.

The data will be compared to models of an unpolluted stream developed by the Missouri Resource Assessment Partnership at MU using fish collection data from streams statewide.

"It's not so much an answer as a description," Combes said. "It can be used to compare to other incidents in urban streams, as a benchmark."

Because both Flat Branch and Hinkson Creek — which Flat Branch empties into — are urban streams, the recovery study done on Flat Branch will inform scientists about how Hinkson Creek could recover, too, Combes said.

The study will complement ongoing research at Hinkson Creek, which is led by a partnership between John Schulz of the Missouri Department of Conservation and Jason Hubbart, an assistant professor of forest hyrdrology at MU.

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