Conservation Department Starts Study of Flat Branch Fish
COLUMBIA - The Missouri Department of Conservation said Thursday it is starting to study the wildlife recovery in Flat Branch creek after a fish kill there earlier this month. The purpose of the study is to find out how long it takes for the stream to heal itself after a serious fish kill or pollution problem.
The department is monitoring the health of fish and invertebrates, such as crawfish and insects with a water-born larva stage, as the stream recovers from the fish kill.
The department formed a field team, led by scientist Rebecca O'Hearn, that will test for fish at three sites along the stream each season for around three years. The team will test for the invertebrates every spring and fall.
The length of the study depends on the progress of the creek's recovering wildlife. The department believes the research will show which species first repopulate the stream, and how quickly.
Flat Branch Creek lost an estimated 15,000 fish in the days following the April 1 fire on Business Loop 70. It is speculated that the water runoff from the fire drained into Flat Branch creek, causing a large spike in pollution which could have led to the kill.
O'Hearn, who lives "right in front of" Flat Branch Creek, didn't know about the April 1 fire until she saw it on the news that morning before work. "I opened up the windows, it was a really nice day, and I was like 'something's barbecuing," she recalled.
Then, she saw the O'Reilly fire on the news.
"Then, when I found out about the fish kill when I came into work that morning, and I thought 'Wow, you know, [the fish kill] is probably pretty significant if I could smell that kind of charcoal, barbecue flavor coming from behind my apartment," she said.
O'Hearn and her team will use a large fishing net, known as a seine haul, that has a pole on each end. They will have two researchers stretch the net across the creek, and run it through the water and across the top of the riverbed. The team will record how many and what types of species it catches, then release them back into the stream.
Researchers will then compare the data they collect to non-polluted stream data collected statewide by the Missouri Resource Assessment Partnership at MU.
O'Hearn and the department are appreciative of the rare chance they have after the unfortunate kill. "It also gave us an opportunity to go in and study recolonization rates of the fish and macro invertebrates in the stream," she said.
O'Hearn also said the last time the department conducted a similar study was "a few decades ago."
The team will test three points along Flat Branch creek. One is just south of the intersection of Broadway and Providence Rd., the second is along the MKT Trail just past the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial at Battle Garden, and the third is where Flat Branch creek empties into Hinkson Creek.