DNR Unable to Trace Fish-Kill Source

DUBUQUE COUNTY, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- A fish kill in a Dubuque County creek could have led to a fine of tens of thousands of dollars- but now the Iowa DNR is afraid the culprit or cause may never be known.

For the fifth time in the last ten years, Whitewater Creek has seen a fish kill. But some people are frustrated, because the Iowa DNR says they were not notified in time to take any action.

Saturday, May 12, the Iowa DNR responded to a call about dead fish seen southeast of Epworth.

When they arrived, they realized many of the fish were dead for days- with many already traveling downstream or possibly eaten by wildlife. The creek saw at least a six-mile stretch contaminated, but the source may never be known.

Tests showed there were elevated levels of ammonia, but those with the DNR say it is not enough to know the exact source.

"Unfortunately we weren't able to determine the source," said Chris Gelner, an Environmental Specialist for the Iowa DNR Manchester office. "And that's likely due to the fact that we weren't there until a couple days after. If we were out there right away and there was a manure discharge, we likely would have found evidence of high ammonia in the water."

The fine on these types of fish kills can be tens of thousands of dollars, most of that cost coming from the fish in the water- ranging from seven cents to upwards of $1,000 per fish.

Gelner said they rely on people to call in issues to the emergency response line.

Because the DNR does not regularly check on the creek, Gelner they can only hope they are notified earlier next time.

"The next step is waiting for the next one [fish kill] to happen," Gelner said. "Because in this case we were unable to determine the source. If we could determine the source, our interest is in stopping the spill from occurring and hopefully preventing it from happening again."

Gelner said this is the third time in the last decade the cause of a fish kill in Whitewater Creek will be left undetermined.

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