Did normal farming practices create a toxic stew in the South Branch of the Whitewater River, a trout stream in southeastern Minnesota?
In The troubling 'mystery' of the Whitewater fish kill, St. Paul Pioneer outdoor writer Dave Orrick reports:
On July 28, a heavy rain poured down upon the fields, bluffs and valley surrounding the South Branch of the Whitewater River in southeastern Minnesota, one of the state's most heralded trout streams.
Later that day or the next, between 9,000 and 10,000 fish in a 6.5-mile stretch of the river in Olmsted County were killed suddenly. The event nearly wiped out the wild brown trout population in that stretch.
That's not disputed.
Following an unprecedented investigation by three state agencies to determine a cause, the verdict arrived last month in the form of a 367-page report: "unable to draw a clear conclusion."
No smoking gun. No deadbeat landowner dumping chemicals in the dark of night. No bungled sewage plant operation. No catastrophic failure of a manure tank at a dairy farm.
Maybe that's a relief.
Or maybe it's worse. .
Maybe, as the report concludes, nothing illegal was done. Maybe all the herbicides, pesticides and fungicides -- including some lethal to aquatic life -- that were sprayed on crops by helicopter days leading up to the kill were in compliance. And maybe all the manure -- some of it laden with copper sulfate and other heavy metals -- was applied to nearby fields in compliance with state statutes.
Maybe that combination was flushed by heavy rain . . .
And maybe that created a toxic stew that killed the fish.
That's the suspicion of Jeffrey Broberg, a geologist, environmental manager and president of the Minnesota Trout Association. . . .
If they can't find the cause, then it's the general conditions," said Broberg. "That's what killed the fish: the normal farming practices."
Broberg isn't alone. State Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, who has a penchant for criticizing agricultural practices and policies, said the state's report contains enough information to point the finger at a combination of ag-based contributors.
"There wasn't a smoking gun," Hansen said. "There was a smoking Gatling gun."
The state report -- "South Branch Whitewater River: Unified Fish Kill Response" -- was completed by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources.
Here's the report:
Because these are the facts it supports:
Farmers along the South Branch of the Whitewater River went about their business in July, as did the fish in the river.
Then it rained.
And the fish died.
That shouldn't happen.
Read the entire article at the Pioneer Press.
Photo: Dead trout in the river.(Photo courtesy Minnesota Department of Natural Resources).
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