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Kishwaukee River turned red, foamy
Posted By Brandon Reid On June 27, 2012 @ 7:00 am In Local News, News | 1 Comment
By Susan Johnson
and Frank Schier
Editor & Publisher
Sunday, June 24, a large section of the Kishwaukee River in Boone and Winnebago counties turned an odd shade of red, complete with a scummy foam of the same color.
The incident was reported to The Rock River Times by Sam Stanfa, a Rockford-area kayaker, who was out to the Kishwaukee River the morning of Sunday, June 24.
After one call to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) Sunday, Stanfa said he tried again Monday. “I called the IEPA back, and they said it was algae bloom,” Stanfa said. “They said it is ugly but harmless, so I’m assuming they know what they’re talking about. They took samples. The conservation police were all over the place, and they took samples. Yesterday [June 24] about noon, I was going down to the river to see if it was clouded or dirty or clear, and it was pretty obviously not normal for me. I’ve never seen anything like it. So, I called my wife about it, and we took pictures of it. When I called Frank (Schier), he told me to call Sterling IDNR, and they checked around with the people here, and found out it was the algae. [They said] sometimes it’s green, sometimes it’s blue or brown, it was really strange because the one [branch of the] river was covered and the other wasn’t. At Perryville where the two rivers join, the Kishwaukee was all covered with this algae bloom, and the south branch was clear. They said it will last several days, maybe a week or two. It happens when the rivers are low and clear.”
Dan Sallee is a regional fisheries biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois Office of Water Resources.
Sallee said: “The conservation police and the Illinois EPA were out there yesterday (June 24). They did a thorough investigation. The Illinois EPA took samples, but their conclusion was — and my guess was, with Sam, that this was a ‘low-water bloom.’ What that means is, our waters are very rich in nutrients with lots of food in our water. When we have these low-water conditions in hot, sunny weather and clear water, these micro-organisms (bloom) rapidly reproduce and create high numbers, depending on the species. Sometimes we get calls of bright green paint, sometimes brown, blue or green, depending on what species of micro-organism it is. These micro-organisms increase in numbers, so that people believe it is a pollution event when actually it is just micro-organisms.
“That is what we believe happened here,” Sallee said. “It is a quasi-natural event. That means that we no longer have the same water quality that we had ‘in nature.’ We remove water from the streams and add discharges to the streams; nutrient cycles get out of balance. That is, blooms may well have occurred anyway, whatever we did. We withdraw water for irrigation and everything else that goes on. We can’t say exactly what is naturally occurring. We don’t know exactly when it happened. The nutrients build up gradually; somebody noticed it and called us, just like if you dump something in the water, it happens.
“The conservation police and the Illinois EPA saw some evidence of it as far upstream as the Mill Race at Belvidere Park on the north branch, down to near the junction with the Rock River,” Sallee added.
Sallee also related that there is nothing “natural” about 600 pounds per acre of nitrogen being spread on agricultural areas or heavily fertilized household and commercial lawns running off into local tributary creeks and the Kishwaukee itself.
Noting nitrogen and phosphorus are the common “nutrients” that cause algae blooms, Nathan Hill, Rockford Park District natural areas maintenance coordinator, related that the river level and weather conditions may make such algae blooms more likely, considering the normal discharge levels of waste water and sewage treatment plants from Belvidere and DeKalb. He said normal discharge levels could become abnormal under current conditions, even though the discharges are perfectly legal according to permits issued with normal conditions in mind. He also pointed out certain permits allowed for higher levels during heavy usage hours.
Calls were made to the mayors of Belvidere and Cherry Valley, who were out of the office at the time, asking for any information available.
Steven Larsen, owner of Larsen’s Landing Outfitters, a canoeing/camping company on the Kishwaukee river near the mouth at the Rock River, said, by late Sunday afternoon the river had turned red with foamy scum gathering on the shorelines, which was still in evidence on Monday.
A June 26 e-mail provided to The Rock River Times from Bruce Yurdin, manager of the Watershed Management Section of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency sent to Arlan R. Juhl, director of the Illinois Office of Water Resources of the IDNR, stated: “Not a spill but we did get complaints about reddish water and foam on the Kishwaukee starting over the weekend. We investigated that on Sunday and Monday. Today, we had the same complaint (different complainant) about the Mazon River. Both instances appear to be caused by the weather and the activity of algae, under low flow, sunshine and high temperatures.”
From the June 27-July 3, 2012, issue
Article printed from The Rock River Times: http://rockrivertimes.com
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