Fish kill decimates trout in Rush Creek near Rushford
More than 2,500 fish have been found dead from a fish kill event that occurred in late July.
LEWISTON — When Mark Reisetter first heard about a big fish kill on Rush Creek, first reported July 26, near his Lewiston home, “my gut reaction was, oh no, not again.”
The former trout-fishing guide and vice chairman of the southeast Minnesota Trout Unlimited said he has a camper along the South Branch Whitewater River near Elba, and it was on that river that the last big kill was found in the summer of 2015.
He said last month’s kill happened on the upper end of Rush Creek north of Interstate 90. Rush Creek is one of the region’s best-known trout streams; it flows south under the I-90 bridge, is joined by tributaries and eventually joins the Root River in Rushford.
According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the MPCA along with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Minnesota Department of Agriculture responded to the kill on July 26 though it happened earlier. At least 2,500 fish were killed, with about 75% brown trout, a cold water species. The rest were warm-water species such as white suckers.
The agencies looked at whether it was “triggered by an extreme weather event.” But it determined that it was not a natural event, said Lauren Lewandowski, a MPCA communications specialist.
It was observed that the kill happened after a heavy rain July 23, according to the MPCA.
“Such rainfall events are known to result in contaminated runoff to streams and rivers,” she said.
The agency is the lead for the investigation that is ongoing, she said. She cautioned that finding specific causes for big kills, including the bigger ones on Rush and the Whitewater, are often hard to find.
“We may not be able to pinpoint (the cause) due to the nature of the river and flowing water,” she said.
Reisetter said the kill has received a lot of publicity already. One of the most graphic pictures to come out of the event was of a dead 27-inch brown trout that is well into the trophy class.
“When I posted that in the (Minnesota Trout Unlimited) Facebook page, we have had 30,000 views in that already,” he said.
Reisetter said one person noted that some of the dead fish were up into the grass out of the stream so they had to have died when Rush Creek was higher after the rainfall. When fish were found, they were already beginning to decay.
He suspects either farmers spreading manure in days before the heavy rain of about 1.5 inches or there is another report of aerial spraying of chemicals in the area before the kill.
Reisetter said he lives on the west side of Lewiston and they had to close their windows due to manure being spread nearby from the west. The next day, with a wind from south-southwest, they again could smell manure. Those were a day or two before about 1.5 inches of rain fell in the area.
Besides seeing dead fish after the big kills on the South Branch Whitewater and Rush Creek, he has also seen dead fish on Garvin Brook. “It’s disheartening,” he said.
“How many years does it take for that habitat to produce something like that?” Reisetter said, referring to reports of a 27-inch trout found dead. In addition to fish killed, the bugs that fish depend on for food are often also wiped out, he said.
According to Melissa Wagner, supervisor of the DNR fisheries office in Lanesboro, the region has recorded about one fish kill each year for the last five years. Others have been:
- July, 2021, about 250 trout were found dead in Trout Valley Creek south of Weaver.
- September, 2019, about 1,262 trout killed in Garvin Brook west of Winona.
- May, 2018, about 15 trout died in Bee Creek near the Iowa border in Houston County.
- October, 2017, about 170 trout died in Spring Valley Creek.
Rush Creek is not known to have had any other kills in the recent past, Wagner said. The most recent kill was in a stretch where a trout habitat project, which tries to improve the stream for better fish habitat and a better stream overall, was completed recently. “It is not suspected to have caused the fish kill,” she said.