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Winona County residents ask Gov. Walz for investigation on recent fish kills

Around 140 Winona County residents signed the letter asking Gov. Tim Walz to meet with the community to discuss the July 26 fish kill near Lewiston.

Fish kill1.jpg
Trout washed up dead in Rush Creek. A fish kill beginning July 26, 2022, on the creek has led to the death of more than 2,500 fish.
Contributed / Carl Berberich
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LEWISTON — Winona County residents and Land Stewardship Project members on Wednesday delivered a letter to Gov. Tim Walz in St. Paul calling for action on fish kills in the county over the past several years.

"It's kind of becoming an annual pattern, based on what our members in the area are telling us," said Matthew Sheets, a policy organizer with Land Stewardship Project. "These fish kills keep happening in the region around Lewiston and Winona County, but folks are consistently not getting answers when things are investigated."

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As previously reported by the Post Bulletin , an estimated 2,500 fish were found dead in the upper end of Rush Creek north of Interstate 90 near Lewiston on July 26. An estimated 2,500 fish were killed; most were brown trout.

Fish kills have occurred in other water bodies around the area in 2021, 2019, 2018, 2017 and 2015.

"In 2019, 1,500 fish were reported killed in Garvin Brook, a beautiful trout stream that goes through Farmers Park, just east of Lewiston, a favorite meeting place for folks in the area and a place where children regularly swim. In 2021, 250 trout were found dead in Trout Valley Creek, just south of Weaver, a great fly-fishing spot," the letter reads. "If we go back further, to 2015, one of the most productive trout streams in the state, the South Fork of the Whitewater River that passes to the west of Lewiston, was the site of yet another fish disaster that was estimated to have killed thousands."

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For the two larger fish kills in 2019 and 2015, state agencies didn't identify a source for the issue other than that the kills were "unnatural" in origin. The 2022 Rush Creek fish kill is still under investigation.

The letter connects these kills to more widespread concerns of groundwater contamination in the region.

"The porous nature of the karst geology of southeastern Minnesota means that surface level contamination quickly makes its way into groundwater where it can pollute our aquifers, something that is already happening," the letter reads. "For example, Lewiston itself had to dig a new municipal well an extra few hundred feet deeper to a second aquifer because the original aquifer had accrued dangerous levels of nitrate pollution. As people who drink, cook, and wash with this water when it comes out of our taps, and who fish these streams as well as use this water to irrigate our crops and water our livestock, we see a troubling pattern emerging."

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The letter, which has been signed by 135 residents, also invites Gov. Walz to meet with the group to talk about the recent fish kill on Rush Creek and what actions could be taken to prevent future kills.

"The letter is an invitation for him to come to Winona County and hear from members in the community who care about this, and for us to work in partnership with him," Sheets said.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Department of Agriculture and Department of Natural Resources are investigating the cause of the fish kill. MPCA communications specialist Lauren Lewandowski provided a statement on the investigation:

More than 2,500 fish have been found dead from a fish kill event that occurred in late July.

"The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Agriculture with the Department of Natural Resources are making concerted efforts to identify the cause of the fish kill in Rush Creek. Results from water quality tests have not provided definitive information as to a specific cause or source. This is often the case because of inherent delays in the discovery of fish kills, reporting, and response."

"The investigation continues related to manure handling and pesticide use in the 10-square-mile watershed. These types of investigations take time, often months, and when concluded they may not point to a specific cause. Once the investigation has concluded we will provide an update. Until the investigation is complete, details about an ongoing investigation are not public."

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Dené K. Dryden is the Post Bulletin's region reporter, covering the greater Rochester area. Before joining the Post Bulletin in 2022, she attended Kansas State University and served as an editor for the student newspaper, the Kansas State Collegian, and news director for Wildcat 91.9, K-State's student radio station. Readers can reach Dené at ddryden@postbulletin.com.
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