UPDATE: State monitors Flat Branch Creek after apartment fire

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 | 4:39 p.m. CDT; updated 5:49 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 30, 2012

COLUMBIA — Three days after water used on the fire at Brookside on College washed into Flat Branch Creek, the oxygen level at some spots in the creek was lower than normal.

“The low oxygen level could have a negative impact to the fish in the creek,” Rebecca O’Hearn, a resource scientist with the state Department of Conservation, said.

O’Hearn said she was excited to find a “very limited amount of fish” in Flat Branch on Tuesday that were too small to identify without a microscope.

“They are very small; they are just babies, less than one centimeter long,” she said.

About 9 a.m. Monday, the day after the fire, O’Hearn said she was walking on the MKT Nature and Fitness Trail where it crosses Stadium Boulevard and observed brown water in Flat Branch. She tested the oxygen level on Tuesday morning and found it was low. She also performed other tests including temperature, pH and ammonia.

Another staff member tested again on Wednesday and found the oxygen level was “in the process of returning,” O’Hearn said. “The level at some spots was still lower than expected.”

An estimated 2 million gallons of water were used on the apartment fire, according to data from the Columbia Water and Light Department. That's more water than could fit in three Olympic-sized swimming pools, and it's twice as much water as the water tower on Walnut Street holds.

O’Hearn said the water might have drained into Flat Branch and killed some microorganisms in the creek, leading them to decompose and consume oxygen. Another possible reason for low oxygen levels was the breaking down of organic matter in the water.

She was not sure about how much impact the water used at the fire scene would have on the urban stream.

The water from the fire may slow down the recovery of the fish, invertebrates and other organisms after a massive fish kill in April that resulted from water that drained into Flat Branch from a fire at a strip mall on Busines Loop 70 that included an auto supply store with a variety of petrochemicals.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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