Tim Smith Posted December 13, 2007 Report Share Posted December 13, 2007 Most of us in the ISA are aware of the fish kill that occurred there several years ago during a boiler cleaning operation at the University of Illinois. That case will be resolved soon and it appears the defendants will be forced to pay a settlement of $450,000 for the damage done to the fisheries and habitat in those streams. The next phase of the process will involve a public comment period on the use of the settlement money to restore the stream. At this moment, the IDNR intendeds to use those funds is for the construction of rock structures designed to stablize banks and create downcutting areas (depth) at specific locations in the Saline Branch (a small tributary of the Salt Fork). Prairie Rivers Network has commented publically that they feel the better use of those funds will be to strengthen the conservation reserve program in the Salt Fork drainage, or to acquire preserves in the riparian zone of the Salt Fork drainage through simple fee purchases. Either use of the settlement funds is possible, although at this time the official plan is to build the rock structures. There is an ongoing discussion about the use of these funds, and as one of the major resource users on that system, we are going to be a part of that debate. The ISA will be participating in the public comment phase of this settlement. This is an important chance to let our voice be heard both here on the forum and in public hearings to come later. Please be aware that the content of this thread could well become part of the public discussion. At a minimum, several of the players in this discussion will read what we say here. A few facts are in order: 1. The settlement money must be used to benefit the impacted population of fish (and the impact on the smallmouth population is apparently being given special weight since it is the only major fishery in the system). 2. Fish (smallmouth bass) move between the Saline Branch and the Salt Fork on a regular, mostly seasonal basis. 3. Although the settlement money can be used acquire land, it cannot over-ride the local authority of the drainage district (which is currently involved in channelizing large sections of the Salt Fork and seems determined to continue that practice indefinitely). Anything put in place as a restoration can be removed by the Drainage District if they deem it a restriction on flow and a flooding hazard. Presently, the drainage district on the Saline Branch is willing to allow the proposed rock structures. It is less clear to me that the drainage district on the Salt Fork is willing to allow rock structures there. 4. The sewage treatment plant through which this spill occurred is still in operation on the Saline Branch and will be for the foreseeable future. Although the Saline Branch has smallmouth bass and a reasonable number of fish species in it, it also has some of the highest downstate concentrations of nutrients and other contaminants due to the presence of the sewage treatment plant (as measured by the IEPA's Ambient Water Quality Monitoring Network). 5. This is not the first fish kill on the Saline Branch. Numerous chemical spills associated with the University of Illinois have occurred over the years, entering the Saline Branch from Boneyard Creek on the campus. 6. Rock structures do attract smallmouth bass and concentrate them where they are more accessible to anglers. It is less clear that those structures benefit fish populations in question. Harvest of fish from highly visible rock structures becomes more likely. Other population bottlenecks such as spawning substrate or survival of juvenile fish may negate the benefits of rock structures to the fishery. 7. Rock structures do not benefit the majority of fish species in the stream. 8. In my opinion, habitat is definitely limiting the smallmouth bass population on the Saline Branch. It is a relatively high gradient system for this area, but it has been channelized in the past and it carries a heavy load of sand bedload. The majority of the system has sparse cover with the only available habitat located in the root wads and tree trunks a small riparian fringe, plus a few larger flow refuges. 9. The approach Prairie Rivers Network wants to take is to acquire other high quality tributaries and revert them to a conservation trust (an offshoot of the Nature Conservancy). The logic here is that those tributaries will serve as a source population to replinish the Salt Fork if another spill occurs. 10. IDNR has countered Prairie River's arguement by saying that those high quality tributaries do not have the species diversity necessary to replinish the Salt Fork after a major fish kill. They also have said that the cost of acquiring that land may be prohibitive (given that with 0.45K you could acquire at the most a couple hundred acres). Currently, my perception of the facts surrounding this issue is as follows: 1. It is not clear to me that by attracting smallmouth bass to those rock structures, the population of smallmouth is necessarily helped. It might be helped, and and the ability to catch fish at those spots is certain to improve but the effect on the overall system and overall species diversity is likely to be nil or even negative in a few cases. 2. A land aquisition, even a small one that allows for riparian restoration will provide many of the same benefits as the rock structures through gradual restoration of the riparian zones. In addition it provides the potential for public access, recreation etc. The potential for the drainage district to come in and destroy a reserve by removing riparian cover and channelizing does exist. However, it also exists to a degree for the rock structures. 3. Neither the proposed rock or reserve restorations address the actual failures in the system that caused the fish kill. The things that are "broken" in the system have not been restored. In my opinion, the likelihood that another fish kills will eventually occur again in Saline Branch the future is very high. Anything that attracts and holds fish in an area close to likely disturbances in the future, enhancing the likelihood that they will suffer from additional fish kills in the future. What facts are missing here? What restoration should the ISA support? Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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