CEDAR RAPIDS — When Brad Mullin received word that nearly 1,300 trout died Monday at McLoud Run in Cedar Rapids he was disappointed.
But there also was a hint of optimism in knowing that there were at least that many trout surviving in the waters of Iowa’s only urban trout stream. For a stream rumored to have no trout in the mid-1990s, those numbers felt pretty good to Mullin, who lives in Cedar Rapids and serves as treasurer of the Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association.
Monday’s fish kill — the result of a failed valve on a 16-inch city water main that sent “several hundred thousands of gallons” of treated drinking water into McLoud Run, according to Cedar Rapids officials — is the third fish kill in the past four years.
Mullen, who frequents McLoud Run and said it’s a nice option for those who don’t want to make the trek north to fish, said the fish kills are unfortunate but a natural trade-off for having an urban stream with unique hazards.
Monday’s kill demonstrated that trout in the stream are growing, finding food and the water temperature and environment is comfortable for the fish, Mullen said.
“The (Iowa Department of Natural Resources) ... goes in and puts in baby fish,” he said, referencing a state-run fish stocking program that has been in place since the late 1990s. “What we’re more interested in are fish that are 6 to 8 inches long because the DNR would not stock those fish.”
Fishing hot spot
Located along the east side of Interstate 380, McLoud Run has been a hot spot for catch-and-release fishing over the past two decades, after DNR officials began stocking the stream in 1998. Last year, DNR officials said the spring-fed stream is stocked annually with more than 3,000 brown trout, 2,000 rainbow trout and 1,000 brook trout.
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It had been a long time coming for local anglers, as there had been a “lore” or “rumor,” Mullen said, that there were trout in McLoud Run as early as 1960.
In 1996, according to information gathered by the Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association, a phone call to the Lake Macbride fishery station led to the first fish survey of McLoud Run. There were no trout found in the stream, but as a result, the DNR began tracking water temperature because trout are quite susceptible to warm water.
“Trout are very sensitive fish,” said Joe Sanfilippo, environmental program supervisor for the DNR’s Manchester office. “In year’s past, we used to have fish kills in the summertime because the rain water would hit the hot pavement and run into the stream.”
Over the years, Sanfilippo said, Cedar Rapids officials have done quite a bit of work to put in structures that would slow rainwater runoff — alleviating that problem.
“As far as the other problem, which is water mains breaking and drinking water getting into McLoud Run, the city tries to control that as much as it can,” he said. “Unfortunately, in this situation, it was basically in the creek itself and there was not really time to put in controls.”
Monday’s fish kill totaled more than 2,200 fish, said Paul Sleeper, a fisheries biologist for the DNR and the man responsible for counting the dead fish, which included 1,288 trout, 673 white suckers and 300 other species.
He said those totals are conservative estimates.
“In this particular incident, I walked the whole length of the kill,” Sleeper said, noting he got the call just before 4 p.m. Monday and had to return early Tuesday to finish counting. “We always underestimate these kills.”
Officials said the discharged water included chloramine, a chemical used to disinfect water, that is harmful to fish.
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Since the incident, water main construction activities near McLoud Bridge that led to the valve break have resumed and bridge replacement is on the horizon, said Maria Johnson, communications manager for Cedar Rapids.
Whether or not the DNR will fine on the city of Cedar Rapids remains to be seen.
“What we do is determine the cause (of the kill) and go to the next step, which then determines if any enforcement of a fine is required, or fish restitution,” said Brett Meyers, environmental specialist for the DNR heading the McLoud Run investigation.
He said the decision most likely will take several weeks.
stocking to continue
For now, the DNR plans to continue its trout stocking of McLoud Run. Officials said the discontinuation of the program has never been discussed, despite the recent fish kills, which also includes more than 300 fish killed by an “unknown foreign substance” in 2016 and 70 killed in 2013 after a 6-inch city water line broke sending treated water into the stream.
“Since it’s an urban area, there are extraneous circumstances,” Meyers said. “(Because of) where it’s located, there’s just more variables that go into the equation that could cause something to happen.”
Mullen said he hopes to see continuing improvements to the stream. The last major enhancement, he said, came in the early 2000s when the Environmental Protection Agency awarded a $675,000 water quality and watershed protection grant to improve McLoud Run.
“Hopefully, in the future, the city can work to prevent chemically treated water from getting in there, but accidents happen. Valves fail and, unfortunately, the fishery will have a negative impact when it happens,” Mullen said. “It can be used as a learning experience.
“Overall, it is a good quality fishery and most people see it as a destination.”
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