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Water Woes Get Worse

Drought bringing on blue-green algae blooms, more fish kills

Water Woes Get Worse
Water Woes Get Worse

As an ongoing drought and heat wave continue to wreak havoc on most of the middle portion of the United States, the effects felt on many fisheries and waterways are becoming evident.

In the past several weeks, restrictions have been placed on some public lakes in Kansas for health reasons, additional fishing restrictions are in place on three Montana rivers and trout stockings in Iowa have been suspended due to extreme heat. Meanwhile, wildlife agencies in Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Dakotas have reported large fish kills.

On July 31, the National Drought Mitigation Center said 52.65 percent of the United States and Puerto Rico are currently in what it classifies as a “moderate” drought or worse. Conditions are worse in many parts of the Midwest. On Aug. 2, the NDMC reported that nearly 93 percent of Missouri is in “extreme” drought.

“We saw drought continue to intensify over Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas this week,” said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, based at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “Pretty much all of Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska are now in severe drought, and it expanded through much of Oklahoma.

“It’s hard to believe that it’s getting worse, but it is, even with some rain in the region. Drought continues to intensify through the Midwest and Plains states.”

Blue-Green Algae in Kansas

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the state’s Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism have placed restrictions on a dozen lakes and reservoirs due to breakouts of blue-green algae.  The lakes remain open for boating, but public swimming beaches have been closed.

Health effects from recreational exposure to blue-green algae vary, but the most common complaints include vomiting, diarrhea, skin rashes, eye irritation and respiratory symptoms. Blue-green algae toxins can also cause death in pets and livestock. Additional advisories and warnings in Kansas can be found by clicking here.

Six lakes have been placed under a public health warning, while six more are under advisory conditions. The water in these lakes is deemed unsafe and direct contact (wading, skiing and swimming) is prohibited. Fishermen are urged to clean any fish caught and rinse with clean water. Also, they should only consume the fillet portion and discard the rest.

A stream notice was also issued in Kansas, warning farmers and others that blue-green algae may develop in stagnant pools in streams that are experiencing extremely low flows.

Trout restrictions in Montana

In Montana, recent high water temperatures have led to fishing restrictions on three rivers in the Great Falls area.  The Dear Born, Smith and Sun rivers will all be closed daily to fishing between noon and midnight, a typical practice of the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department when water temperatures remain at or above 73 degrees for three days.


According to Bob Gibson, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ public information officer, warmer water conditions place a significant strain on trout in the river, which thrive in water at 55-57 degrees. The higher temperatures make them less likely to survive after being caught and released.

Gibson also said such restrictions are also likely for the Yellowstone River if temperatures do not decline soon.

Also in Montana, water from Cooney Reservoir has been closed to boating, swimming and fishing. Water is being taken from the lake by helicopters to combat wild fires in nearby Stillwater County.

Stocking suspended in Iowa

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has temporarily suspended regular trout stockings on five streams as stream temperatures have ballooned into the lower 80s.

“We need to have either the weather cool off or get some precipitation to increase stream flows, which should help stream temperatures decrease,” said Brian Malaise, manager at the trout hatchery in Decorah, Iowa.

Streams will be evaluated weekly to determine if the suspension will be lifted.

“The trout stocked earlier in the year in those streams have become acclimated to the warmer water and can find springs with cooler temperatures,” Malaise said. “But the trout taken from 50-degree water at the hatchery cannot be stocked in 70- to 80-degree water without some mortality.”

A fish kill has also been reported on Iowa’s Des Moines River due the hot and dry conditions.

Upper Midwest Fish Kills 

Temperatures over 100 degrees and resulting low oxygen levels have combined to kill thousands of fish in Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Dakotas.

“These things are going to occur,” Henry Drewes, the Department of Natural Resources’ fisheries manager for northwestern Minnesota, told The Associated Press. “There are going to be more fish kills reported in the weeks ahead.”

Jack Lauer, the fisheries manager in southern Minnesota, estimated 10 to 15 lakes in his region have been affected. He said most vulnerable are the shallow, around seven feet deep.

Thousands of northern pike, many of which were trophy-sized, died last week in several shallow lakes in southern Wisconsin. Most were larger than 20 inches with some bigger than 40 inches, according to DNR fisheries biologist Ryan Koenigs.

“It’s kind of sad to see these large northern pike dead,” Koenigs told The Associated Press. “These fish are probably 15 years old, if not older.”

State officials have also seen dead carp, yellow perch, bluegill, largemouth bass and gizzard shad.

There have also been significant numbers of northern pike die in the James River in southeast North Dakota and northeast South Dakota. North Dakota Game and Fish Department fisheries chief Greg Powers said the river had been above flood stage for the past three years, creating ideal spawning conditions. Now, however, the river is only about eight feet deep in spots, which prevents the fish from diving to cooler water, he said.

“We had never had so many pike in the James River,” Power told the AP. “Unfortunately, thousands died this year and the guys are still trying to figure out how many.”

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