Riverkeeper Report: After Irene (Update #3)

03 Sep
September 3, 2011

Well, the City of Franklin was spared a major flood this go-round. The Blackwater crested at Burdette Wednesday at around 14.73. The reading was 6.49 on the new gauge at Franklin, but nobody seems to really know what to do with those readings. I ask my friend at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration why the gauge was not used in the forecast modeling, and she said, “We do not have it on our maps because it’s not one of the gauges we have in our forecast model.” “Also, the readings on it jump up and down so much that it’s not much use. I remember there was talk at one point of making that the forecast point instead of the gauge upstream near Burdette, but until the gauge is more reliable, I don’t know if that will happen.” So if NOAA thinks that gauge is “not much use,” I’m wondering how much was spent on this gauge, and if it is not going to be used to forecast the river flood levels, what purpose is it serving? I like it for its water temperature readings. I can get online, but that’s a mighty expensive thermometer I bet. Anyway, another government fumble I guess. This will be the ninth highest recorded river level. Though not as much water as with Isabelle’s 16.84, it’s still a lot of water in the river. Since there was not any major flooding in the city, I really do not expect there to be many pollution issues as in the past. There will be a lot of trash for sure, but a lot of it will be deposited up in the woods. After the Floyd flood, the river was in seriously bad shape from the floodwaters inundating the sewage treatment plant, the S.W. Rawls fuel depot, the mill and well, everywhere. The pollution was really bad, but expected, as there just is not much you can do about a flood like that. What really got me after those floods were the big fish kills that followed. I was sure after the Floyd flood, the kill was caused by all that pollution, but I was wrong. Actually what happens is that when we have that kind of deluge, it washes so much plant matter into the rivers that the dissolved oxygen levels go down to fish-kill levels. Decaying vegetation from all the swamps and freshly fallen leaves, grass, etc., all get washed into the river. When that stuff starts decaying it has a high biological oxygen demand and actually uses up oxygen in the river. I have confirmed this with the equipment I now have that can test the oxygen in the rivers. I also check those findings against what my friends at the Department of Environmental Quality get when they do their water sampling on the river. On the 3rd of September the dissolved oxygen in the Blackwater was 1.80 and on the Nottoway 1.66 ppm.  Bad, but I have seen worse during regular summertime low flows.   Seeing that many dead fish on the river is pretty hard to take. I saw bream bigger than I even thought lived in the river hanging up 6 feet in trees after Floyd. I reckon the raccoons and other critters really enjoyed it. All I know is it really stunk, whew!! It’s hard to say whether there will be a fish-kill this time or not. That’s kinda like trying to predict how high the river will get. In any event, each time a fish-kill has occurred, the fishing and river rebounded pretty quickly in my opinion. I guess it’s just one of the ways Mother Nature keeps things in balance on the two rivers we call the Blackwater and Nottoway.

Update: I was called today the 4th, and told dead fish were showing up at Dockside. Below From NC:

“People should not be alarmed if they see fish kills in eastern North Carolina,” said Coleen Sullins, director of the Division of Water Quality. “We saw this same phenomenon right after hurricanes Bonnie, Floyd and Isabel. Based on what we’ve seen in the past, we’ll probably see more fish kills in the next few days, but then conditions are likely to improve rapidly in just a few weeks.”

Prior to Irene, fish in many eastern rivers were already stressed because extremely warm weather, too, creates lower-than-normal levels of dissolved oxygen.

Hurricane Irene dumped a lot of rain, debris and other pollution such as wastewater and fertilizer in rivers and streams. As the decomposing leaf litter, woody debris and other waste broke down, the process used up oxygen in the water and left little for fish and other aquatic life.

Update #2 Went to Dockside today. Dead fish were red horse suckers up to about 8 pounds. There was one bass. D.O was 1.30. At 258 1.40. At Franklin ramp 1.60. So D.O levels are falling. I think rains we will have tonight and this week could keep levels from continuing decline as long as they do not cause more heavy influx of leaves/swamp yuk etc into the river.

Update #3 Today the 8th the D.O was 1.12 in the BW. I was hoping the rain would turn the levels back up, but I’m not seeing that. No large fish kills of sportfish species yet in BW.  Mostly red horse suckers in Nottoway.  River rising again and could get back to 13ft I believe. If it goes below 1ppm I think we will see lots of dead fish.

1 reply
  1. elaineherring says:

    I hope we don’t see any major fish kills after Irene. There have been a few reported in NC, I hope it won’t happen in the Chowan. Would love to go out but I think it is too unsafe until the river recedes and stops moving so fast. I hope Irene has not done too much damage to all the rivers in our area including the Blackwater & Nottoway. 🙂

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