County officials say fish kills are rare but do happen

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HANCOCK COUNTY — Residents discovered dozens upon dozens of dead fish floating along the edge of a county pond Saturday afternoon in the Countryside neighborhood, just outside of the New Palestine town limits.

The pond is located near the back of the subdivision, in Countryside Park located just south of South Applegate Drive and Tumbleweed Drive, near the Merlau Ditch. The view was shocking for folks in the neighborhood, who noted that seeing a pond filled with belly-up fish was surprising and kind of sad.

“There are tons of dead fish,” said Joe Franklin of New Palestine.

The reason for the unexpected dead fish more than likely was due to a natural cause, county officials said, and not due to any kind of dangerous chemical leak or other problem, despite this being the second fish kill county officials have heard of this month.

Alysa Raleigh, a fish and wildlife health biologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, noted the late summer and early fall can generate an aquatic vegetation event. That’s where plants inside a pond grow rapidly overnight and suck in the oxygen, taking it away from the fish who struggle and die overnight or into the early morning.

“It happens very quickly,” Raleigh said.

She also noted this type of event tends to happen near agricultural areas where fertilizer can get into a pond, leading to rapid growth of plants.

New Palestine Town Manager Jim Robinson pays close attention to the neighborhoods that line the town limits, including retention ponds, and noted he was concerned when he heard of so many dead fish in a nearby pond.

However, he noted Monday, after he went to see if any fish were still alive in the pond, he felt the cause of the massive fish kill was more than likely due to another phenomena called a “pond flip.” It is something caused by changing temperatures in surface waters brought on by the progression of the seasons.

“A pond flip or pond turnover happens when the water in a pond literally turns over and the cold water at the bottom rises to the top,” Robinson said. “It’s rare, but it does happen and if I had to say that’s what happened here, that would be my guess,” Robinson said.

Earlier last week, Robinson noticed another pond in the area, just off of Gem Road heading into town, had a red algae in it and that algae Robinson said will eat up most of the oxygen, like Raleigh had noted, in a pond and unfortunately suffocates the fish.

County Surveyor Susan Bodkin knows where every pond and ditch is located in the county. She keeps an eye on the pond conditions and alerts conservation officer Scott Johnson if there are any problems.

“One of the first things people think of when they see a bunch of dead fish is was there some kind of spill, but usually if it just happens out of the blue, it more than likely is due to a weather change,” Bodkin said.

Brent Wakeland is an environmental health specialist with the Hancock County Health Department. He said their department will go out to test a county pond, but only if they get a legitimate complaint with the possibility of something like a sewage leak.

“We’d kind of go around the pond and take a good look at any yards that might be going into a pond,” Wakeland said.

He referred to reason for the fish kill as a “thermal inversion.”

Wakeland noted that the fish kill could also have happened if someone fertilized the property near the pond, causing chemicals to run into the water. But, he also noted in almost all of these types of cases, the fish kill is just a natural occurrence.

One of Bodkin’s jobs is to watch where and how ponds flow and drain to make sure they are working properly. Both of the ponds in Countryside drain to the Merlau Ditch behind the Needlers grocery store and then continue on south to Shelby County through the drainage, Bodkin said.

She noted after hearing about the dead fish find in Countryside, the event is scary, but is a rare happening.

“I’m going to guess the change in the temperature caused a ‘pond flip,’” Bodkin said. “This is more than likely a natural cause.”

Bodkin noted this is the second “pond flip” she’s heard of so far this season with the first one happening in the Fortville area in the Old Bridge subdivision last weekend where people there felt the dead fish were a result of natural causes.

“We really haven’t had one of these for a while at least for a few years, but it has happened before, it’s just not frequent,” Bodkin said.

The heavy rain had washed away all of the fish by Monday morning when Robinson went to look into the pond in Countryside. He noted turkey vultures, raccoons and other wild animals can quickly clean up a fish kill within a few hours and usually overnight.

Raleigh advised anyone who has a private pond or cares for one can visit www.in.gov/dnr/fish-and-wildlife/fishing/private-pond-and-lake-management and download a copy of a pond management book.

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