Local News

Dry Weather to Blame for Johnston County Fish Kill

Posted June 8, 1999 7:00 a.m. EDT

— The heat is not only affecting our quality of life -- it is also choking the life out of rivers and lakes. In Black Creek, just below Holt's Lake in Smithfield, 7,000 fish have died in the past three days.

State investigators say the oxygen level underwater is too low for the fish to survive. They say the problem is part dry weather and part man-made.

Black Creek gets its water from Holt's Lake. But the Holt's Lake Homeowners Association refused to release water that state water quality experts say could raise the oxygen level and bring the creek back to life.

"The water wasn't coming across that dam over there," explains Ernie Seneca, of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. "The fish were left out here stranded basically. Not enough oxygen in the water, not enough water itself, and it killed them."

The homeowners association says it was reluctant to release the water because the oxygen levels are also dangerously low in the lake. Releasing any water downstream would only make it worse on both sides of the dam.

"Two thirds of this lake is less than five feet deep. If we let it down five feet, there are lots of pockets up the lake where fish would die," says Grover Dees, president of the homeowners association.

Wednesday afternoon, the group agreed to open their dam so fresh water could get downstream. The homeowners association says it does not necessarily agree with the state's plan to release the water but will do what the state says and see what happens.

"We want to do what's right," says Dees. "We try to do the best we can to help wildlife. That's why we got the lake and why we're maintaining it. We just have to wait and see what they tell us what we have to do."

While the homeowners association will not have to pay any fines, they will pay for an aerator that will be used to churn up the air in the water and increase the oxygen level.

Water quality experts say the problem will not really go away until it rains.