The Herald Bulletin

Afternoon Update

Local News

March 23, 2013

Gone fishin'

Reservoir could improve water quality, fishing

ANDERSON, Ind. — In 1999, an estimated 4.3 million fish were killed in the 55-mile stretch of the White River between Anderson and downtown Indianapolis.

That kill was later traced to an industrial discharge by the Guide Corporation’s Anderson campus, which resulted in a $6 million cleanup handled by Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

By all accounts, it appears to have been a success; Last year, the state’s DNR gave the White River its cleanest bill of health in over a decade.

That’s good news for the city’s proposed six-billion-gallon Mounds Lake Reservoir, which would draw off the White River watershed. The 2,100-acre reservoir would begin just east of East Lynn and 18th streets in Anderson and back water up seven miles into Delaware County to around County Road 300 South and South High Banks Road.

Water quality will be a factor in whether the reservoir moves forward, said Rob Sparks, executive director of the Anderson/Madison County Corporation for Economic Development, and will be evaluated in the second wave of environmental assessments.

Phase one assessments included looking at groundwater quality on the nearby former General Motors Corp. plant sites on Scatterfield Road — many of which are former brownfield sites — and two small landfills located under the proposed reservoir area. Neither appeared to pose a major threat.

He added that the “biggest problem” in the water contaminant discussion isn’t so much industry as it is farms, whose fertilizers and herbicides wash away with rain and end up in larger bodies of water. The city could propose special fertilizers and buffer zones restricting farming close to the water, which should eliminate much of the threat.

And any that remained could be lessened when diluted by six billion gallons of reservoir water, Sparks said.

In fact, “the reservoir could actually improve water quality,” he said. He sees no reason why people shouldn’t be able to water ski, swim or even eat fish caught there.

Eating recreationally caught fish is sometimes iffy. Contaminants build up in their tissue, which can pose a health threat to humans — specifically women of childbearing years, nursing mothers and children under age 15 — if high levels are ingested.

But “eating fish from lakes and reservoirs is generally less of a concern,” says the Indiana DNR, since contaminant levels are generally very low. In Indiana, all 13 water bodies with all-species do-not-eat advisories are streams.

“This is much bigger,” Sparks said. “We’re talking about a lot of water.”

The White River’s fish population is already on the mend from that 1999 fish kill, the state’s DNR said. But thanks to relocating fish, increasing public awareness, monitoring and habitat protection, there’s a lot of proof “the river has recovered.”

In 2011, Indiana DNR biologists collected 7,128 fish at sample stations between Anderson and Indianapolis. The survey yielded 57 species — the greatest number since the kill. Many of those game species, including black bass, rock bass, saugers, crappie and channel catfish, would likely show up in the reservoir.

“The fish community is healthy, and an increase in darters and minnows is an indication of improving habitat and water quality” said Sandra Clark-Kolaks, a DNR fisheries research biologist, in a release.

Reporter Stu Hirsh contributed to this story.

Find Baylee Pulliam on Facebook and @BayleeNPulliam on Twitter, or call 648-4250.

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