The putrid stench of rotting fish hung heavy over Veterans Memorial Lake Friday morning and buzzards circled overhead.
Meanwhile below, an army of Great Bend city employees, armed with nets, rubber gloves and plastic buckets picked their way along the shoreline. This marked the second day in row they’d spent scooping thousands of dead fish or all sizes out of the lake following what officials called a “massive fish kill.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Park Supervisor Scott Keeler. They spent the day Thursday clearing carcasses, but, more bloated remains floated to the surface over night. “It was like we hadn’t done anything at all.”
The lack of wind was helping the odor linger and the dead fish in the middle of the lake to remain out of reach.
“City crews have been cleaning up the lake as best they can,” said Great Bend Acting Director of Public Lands Terry Hoff. They have drafted extra help and have the Barton County Jail trustees on standby if needed over the weekend.
Although there were a handful of fish swimming in Vets Friday, “the die-off pretty much took care of everything out there,” Hoff said. This included everything from minnows and shad to carp and bass.
“We’re pulling fish out of there like crazy,” Hoff said.
Hoff said the city has contacted the Kansas Department of Health and Environment as well as the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism to assist in determining the cause of the problem. It will probably be state wildlife personnel who take point on the investigation, but they had not been to the scene as of Friday.
No cause has been determined, but Hoff speculated it may have been a lack of oxygen. “The oxygen might have been depleted to the point they aren’t surviving.”
If either of state agencies identify the problem the information will be released through that agency, he said.
This lake has been identified as experiencing a toxic blue-green algae bloom for the past several years. Usage of the lake has been restricted by the KDHE which placed it under a “warning” status.
When under a warning, the body of water has high levels algae. The most severe of KDHE’s classifications, a warning indicates that water conditions are unsafe and direct water contact (wading, skiing and swimming) is prohibited.
The city installed emulsion diffusers, submerged devices that are attached to an air compressor and gently release oxygen bubbles into the water, to help alleviate the problem. It has also hired a consultant to identify, address and remediate any problems, Hoff said. That consultant is in the process of developing a plan of action.
Neither the city nor the consultant have been able to determine if the blue-green algae bloom has contributed to this fish kill, but it is the highly suspected, Hoff said. Nothing new has been introduced into the lake and the city hasn’t done anything differently.
Officials don’t believe the fish kill was caused by an intentional, criminal human act.
For now, “we are asking the users of the park to stay away from the lake shore so workers can complete the cleanup,” Hoff said.