Where Have All My Sowbugs Gone? by Fox Statler
September 16th, 2004
I met with Ken Morrow in Branson to discuss submitting the White River System (WRS) to various organizations. Ken Morrow and I have submitted the entire WRS for the American Rivers Organization Top Ten Most Endangered Rivers List for 2005. Endangered meaning the rivers are changing drastically. The application packet required a contact person be named and three essays about various subjects concerning the WRS and be submitted by the cutoff date of October, 1, 2004. The announcement of the 2005 Most Endangered Rivers List will be posted in April. If we make this list, we will become eligible for grants and awards to study and attack the problems of the WRS. Ken Morrow will be the contact person for the American Rivers Organizations. The packet was submitted before the cutoff date so keep your fingers crossed. Surprisingly, the American Rivers Organization has already been accumulating data and has assigned staff to monitor the WRS. All they were waiting for was someone to stand up and say that we want to stop the polluting of our rivers.
I got the opinion that the packet of materials was merely a formality because of their concern and willingness to accelerate the whole submitting process.
September 19th-25th, 2004
This was a bad week for Norfork Lake and the North Fork River. The first of this week the Striper Bass started coming through the dam discharge. Stripers are one of the few fishes that can tolerate the dramatic change in pressure from the lake to the river and live. Some came through alive and a few dead. Fishermen in the river were catching them. I figured something was up, and in about two days the Striper started dying in the lake near the dam. On Darrel “Bink” Binkly radio program on KTLO, The Arkansas Game & Fish (AG&F) said that only a couple dozen Stripers had died and they stocked more than what was dying. The AG&F also stated that this occurrence “was not that unusual.” The AG&F said that the die-off was attributed to the large amount of “organic matter” that was in the lake due to the high water Spring trying to decompose and absorbing the oxygen from the water.
Now, this is what I observed on Saturday, September 25. From the Quarry Cove Marina to the dam I counted 77 dead Striper Bass. Of these Stripers, only two were less than 30 inches long. The rest were from 30- 48 inches. I did not count the dead Stripers on the other side of the lake near the dam, and reports of still others dying the week of the Conclave were common. Not all of the dead fish came to the top; this is evident because they were coming through the dam discharge dead. No telling how many are littering the bottom of the lake. These die-offs are not common occurrences. They are only common in the last ten years or so. Now they happen every year whether the Spring runoff is high or low. The problems with the water in the lake are the same problems being experienced in the rivers. “Organic Matter”, low oxygen levels, phosphates, sulfates, and nitrates are causing all of these problems. I will post a picture of the some of the Stripers at the end of this article.
September 26th- October 2nd, Conclave Week
Several fly fishermen came at the beginning of the week to fish before the Conclave. Those that I spoke to said that there were “rafts” of dead algae coming through Bull Shoals Dam on the River Cliff Golf Course side of the river. Rafts of algae 2 foot by 4 foot were the norm and fishing was “cast and clean”. Several FFF members commented on the conditions of the river and the dramatic changes that had taken place in just one year. My answer was that next year doesn’t look any brighter.
The Conservation Forum held on Saturday by Verne Lehmberg, the National Conservation Director of the FFF had only ten people in attendance, including Mr. Lehmberg and Vaughan Coomer, who is not a FFF member. Only one Arkansas club was represented and that person left before the discussion on the White River System began. I don’t think a Missouri club was represented at all, but I may be mistaken. Mr. Lehmberg has a PHD in Biology. He did his thesis work on “Phosphates in Water”. He was well aware of the problems in the WRS and gave Vaughan and myselfHe wa some recommendations and directions to follow.
I had a meeting with Dennis and Amy Galyardt about becoming a “Waterkeeper” and joining the Waterkeeper Alliance. I think this is an organization that is fighting the same types of problems that we are experiencing in all of the waters of Arkansas. This is surely the organization we need to align ourselves with. Please check out their website and educate yourself on the entire alliance. I sent them an email last night and have not received an answer as of yet.
Non Point Source Pollution
I have heard this term, Non Point Source Pollution, until I am fed up with it. I am going to explain this term so it will be understood. Non Point Source Pollution means that you can not pinpoint a source of pollution because of the existing standards that qualify a source as a polluter. In other words the Waste Water Treatment Plants in Arkansas are not considered “Point Source Polluters” because their discharge falls within the standards for waste water in Arkansas. If the standards for waste water were raised, the majority of Arkansas’ Waste Water Treatment Plants would become polluters; which, to my way of thinking, they are. The states of Oklahoma and Missouri think this way also. Oklahoma successfully prosecuted Arkansas in 1992 and won. Arkansas signed an agreement with Missouri in 1999 to pay for half of the clean up. In my research, I have found no evidence that they have raised their waste water standard or contributed to cleaner water. The problems with all of the rivers in Arkansas are due to Arkansas and its water standards.
I am including a letter from my friend, David Vincent, who is an Environmental Marine Biologist. I have known David since he was 13 years old. His father, Captain Jon Vincent, and I have been best of friends for many years. David graduate with honors from the University of Houston. He works for an “investigative environmental company” in Houston. His father owns a home at the end of River Cliff Golf Course in Bull Shoals, and David visits him quite frequently. Over a year ago, David tutored his father and me on the problems of the WRS. The following excerpt is from David’s recent letter for me to read at the Conclave Conservation Forum.
What has happened to Our Rivers! I have been fishing both the White and North Fork River for fifteen plus years and have watched these rivers turn from wonderful fishing rivers to rivers that are suffering a great ecological breakdown. I frequently fish the areas from the Bull Shoals Dam to Cane Island and the Norfork Dam to the ripples downstream of the Handicapped Access. I have watched for at least the last five years both rivers deteriorate at an alarming rate. The fish have gotten smaller and fewer, the water has gotten cloudy and smells foul, the bottoms have turned green and there are large beds of dead weeds on the banks of both rivers. These problems are due to the pollution entering the rivers above each of the dams where it accumulates and is discharged from the bottom of the lakes through the dams. The Clean Water Act (CWA) by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was drafted to help preserve and clean up the waterways of the United States. This appears not to be the case with both of these great and famous Arkansas rivers.
Congress passed the CWA in 1972, which updates the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA). CWA provides a framework of laws to deal with the control of water pollution and water quality. Many amendments have been passed since then and are updated on a yearly basis. Many of these areas deal with permitting, controlling standards, and protecting of waterways and wetlands.
Many of the problems with these rivers start not at the dams but many miles above them. Many non-point sources are above the series of dams and pollute the rivers that feed the river system with both chemical and biological waste. Non-point sources are sources that cannot be tracked down to one particular place or source. A good example is run off from farmland which livestock and fertilizers for crops are washed into the rivers and carried down stream. Fecal matters from livestock add biological waste and chemical waste to these rivers. Many of the feeds contain proteins that the animals pass undigested into the water to feed the algae and bacteria. Fertilizers use phosphate and nitrogen as the main ingredients to promote growth of crops. What the crops do not absorb is washed from the fields by rain showers and promotes the growth of algae beds within the rivers. Expanding town and cities above the dams stress sewer and septic system to capacity before towns are willing to spend sizable budgets to enlarge and improve wastewater treatment plants (WWTP). All these points help alga blooms within the river system.
In a Federal court case of Arkansas vs. Oklahoma (1992), the state of Oklahoma sued the City of Fayetteville. Arkansas debated the fact that the CWA did not protect the water quality the standards enacted by Oklahoma. The court ruled that the State of Arkansas may not degrade the water quality to below the standards of Oklahoma.
The dams have become anaerobic lagoons at the bottom half of the water levels. There is very little if any oxygenation and there is no light penetrating down to the depths at the bottom of the lakes. This allows the bottom to set-up as an anaerobic or no oxygen environments. This does not mean this area cannot support life. Many bacteria live and thrive in these areas if there is enough heat. They generally prefer ninety degrees or warmer to live optimally. The temperature of the water coming off the bottom of the dam is around forty-eight to fifty-two degrees. This results in the activity of these bacteria beds being severely retarded.
In the federal case of American Meat Institute vs. EPA (1985), anaerobic lagoons were investigated and found that the optimum temperature for these lagoons is 90 degrees and that during the winter months the water temperature fell bellow this point. This results in the ability of the bacteria beds to digest protein waste to decline.
The bacteria (nitrobacteria) perform a nitrogen cycle during the decomposition process. Waste is converted to NH3 (ammonia) to NO2 to NO3 and eventually to harmless nitrogen (N), which is then off gassed through the water harmlessly to the atmosphere. This process can also produce hydrogen sulfide that is a highly toxic and corrosive gas when the bacteria beds go anaerobic. This gas is often associated with the smell of rotten eggs. An easy way to see this is to take a canister filter from an aquarium and to stop all flow through it and stop as much light from reaching it. Let it stand for one or two days and open it to fresh air (open at arm length and outside). The smell of hydrogen sulfide will be over powering. One of the biggest dangers to my reef tank is a power outage. When the power turns back on, this hydrogen sulfide will be circulated within the tank and will surely kill most of the livestock within the tank with its toxicity.
One the great evidences in the river of the ecological problems and the ineffectiveness of the decomposition process above the dams are the huge amount of green gelatinous clumps that are spat down the river through the dams. This is partially digested and digested alga from above the dams. This accelerates on the shoals and banks of both the White and North Fork Rivers and slowly finishes decomposing. As this decomposition happens, this waste slowly poisons the river. The amounts I saw last years were mind boggling. I spent considerable time pulling pieces of it from my fishing line. The ooze that settles on the bank smells like rotten fish from ammonia being release as the sun dries it out. There is also a rotten egg smell to water adjacent to the areas indicating the presence of hydrogen sulfide. The report of fishing docks floating down the river after the cables that anchor it then snap where this algae or ooze has accumulated is indirect evidence of the corrosive effects of the hydrogen sulfide. This ooze or slime sediments into the gravel beds and chokes the very life bed of the river. These important gravel beds are where the fish lay their eggs and home to the many of the small insects and fish that provide the base for the food chain.
Reports of several water quality parameters that have deteriorated including pH, phosphate, NH3, turbidity, suspended solids, and DO. The pH is lowering to dangerous levels. This can be seen in reports of small fish and water born insects swimming out of the river when heavy rains form streamlets up the banks in an ill-fated attempt to escape the low pH or acid conditions. Another is phosphate from the animal’s feeds, waste water treatment plants, fertilizers, pesticides, and livestock waste. This leads to alga blooms in the rivers and lakes that contribute to the problem in the bottom of lake that are then flushed to the river. The ooze also creates problems with turbidity and suspended solids. Turbidity is the opacity of the water or how much light is blocked. Suspended solids are the amount of waste floating in the water column. The oxygen level is measured in ppm and labeled as dissolved oxygen or DO. The DO can be seen bottoming out and even reaching zero ppm at night during electricity generation. This can be followed by the web page dealing with the rivers and dams provided by the Corp of Engineers. This can also be seen when the photosynthetic cycle of algae pulls the oxygen out of the water. A bayou in Freeport, Texas suffered from this back in the seventies. Large amounts of phosphates and nitrogen were dumped via washing machines into Oyster Bayou causing huge algae blooms. At night there were large fish die-offs. It was found that the alga blooms were pulling the oxygen from the water at night suffocating the fish. This was directly attributed to the waste from the washing machines and the levels of nitrogen and phosphate in the detergent. This is what is happening to a lesser degree within the White and North Fork River systems (at this time).
Several methods have been enacted to try to mitigate these problems with little success. Cups or blades were placed on the generators to aerate the water and raise the DO level. Inspecting the dam reports on the web, this makes little difference and in fact the DO levels have dropped to zero while the damn was generating. This can also condense and intensify the poisoning effect of the suspended proteins within the water column. This is the same principle used in fish tanks called a protein fractionating column or protein skimmer. This consists of a vertical column that air and water and injected to separate and remove the protein. The difference here is the protein is separated out but not removed from the water. This is sometimes seen as brownish-white foam. DO analyzers were place to monitor the levels of dissolved oxygen in the water. These are placed within the faster moving water thus elevating the reading as the water movement aerates and raises the DO of the water. These analyzers need to be placed in both fast and slow water to get an accurate measurement of these levels.
There are talks of using minimal flow to help the ecology of the river. This will not help, but only poison the river more. If the two rivers are having this many difficulties then adding more of what is poisoning it will not cure it! In the court case of Public Utility District No. 1 vs. Washington department of Ecology, it was found the state may use minimal flows to help maintain the Dosewallips River as long as the water quality meets or beats the specified standards. The minimal flows proposed for both the White and North Fork Rivers will harm, not help the ecology within their waters.
More monitoring of the rivers must be done to find out how to preserve the rivers and the beauty. Several types of analyzers should be placed within the rivers to measure water parameters. These would consist of more DO analyzers placed in fast and slow flowing areas. This will give a better idea of the true DO levels. There should also be biological (BOD) and chemical oxygen demand (COD) tests performed on the water. These will tell the levels of waste and chemical that will starve the water for oxygen. The turbidity and suspended solid levels need to be quantified. These qualities will lead to the cloudy water that is starting to be seen.
The ecology in both the White and North Fork River are shutting down at all levels. The sowbugs, scuds, and sculpins are smaller if not completely absent. There is an increase in the numbers of leaches and detrimental forms of snails. This has had a trickle up effect to the trout within the rivers resulting in smaller and fewer in fish numbers. The area has grown-up and is famous for the fishing for trout. This fame was great enough to be mentioned in an episode of the television show MASH. Many companies have been started in the area (ex: Ranger Boats) and enjoyed success based on the fishing of the area. It seems many do not realize what is happening or do not care. This is a shame! I am an out-of-stator who is willing to drive ten hours to enjoy the great setting and fishing. My father semi-retired there because he liked it so much. Let’s protect the North Fork and White Rivers for our enjoyment and the enjoyment of future generations. I know I would like to teach my three year old how to fly fish on these two rivers and watch her eyes gleam as she lands her first fish – as I did over fifteen years ago!