State investigating Sand Creek fish kill

Dead fish float in Sand Creek earlier this summer.

By Adam Strunk

Sand Creek cannot seem to catch a break.

The main waterway in Newton spent last summer dry, following a dam break.

This year during the Mexican-American Fast Pitch Softball Tournament and a week before Sand Creek Summer Daze, fish of all sizes began floating to the surface.

By Saturday afternoon, dead fish, as well as dead crawfish could be observed the length of the creek. Many still living fish hovered near the surface of the water gulping for oxygen. The smell had begun.

The city has since been investigating the fish kill with the help of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, as well as the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

The city originally stated in a release that it was looking into runoff from a possible pollutant washed into the creek following the rain.

As of press time, the city didn’t have an answer, but it did have a direction it was leaning toward as the cause.

“All signs are pointing to it was just like a turnover, but we don’t have the definitive call, yet,” Newton Director of Communications Erin McDaniel said. “Basically, because we initiated contact through the state, we have to go through their process and be more thorough.”
The belief is that the algae could have died off in the creek causing oxygen levels to plummet, drowning the fish.
As oxygen plummets, usually larger fish begin to die first, followed by smaller ones.

Harvey County Now reached out to the KDHE, which confirmed it was investigating, but said it had no further information.

Micah Waters, district fisheries biologist with the KDWPT, agreed that the city’s conclusion was likely, though he said he planned to visit this week to gain more information about the situation.

He said his department had received a number of reports of fish kill in Harvey County recently.

“We have algae die off with a cold front,” he said. When algae dies in large numbers, the decomposition process uses up oxygen. Waters said the long stretch of cooler weather last week could have resulted in algae dying. Less oxygen then suffocates the fish. “It’s kind of hit the Newton area pretty hard. It’s common this time of year.”
This story will be updated as more information becomes available. Check back next week for a follow up.

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