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Fish kill on Dubuque County's Whitewater Creek still undetermined

MANCHESTER – The fish kill count is in, but the responsible party for a pollutant that killed nearly 8,000 fish in Whitewater Creek in mid-September remains undetermined. 

The fish kill was reported Sunday, Sept. 18. DNR staff found manure runoff and dead fish starting about one mile south of Highway 20 between Epworth and Peosta in Dubuque County. DNR fisheries staff began counting dead fish on Sept. 19, finding them along nearly 23 miles of stream ending at the North Fork of the Maquoketa River in Jones County. 

Fisheries biologists determined a fish restitution value of $18,000 for 7,821 dead fish. They estimated 4,049 dead suckers and redhorse; 1,691 minnows, shiners, chubs and dace; 837 stonecat; 418 smallmouth bass; 317 stonerollers; 161 sunfish; 51 channel cat and other species. 

The fish were in advanced stages of decay, indicating pollutants washed into the stream days before DNR was notified. The initial source of the kill appeared to be from one waterway where investigators found somewhat elevated levels of ammonia and manure runoff. 

“We found four possible sources of manure runoff above the grassed waterway, but other sources along the 23 miles of stream could have contributed to the fish kill and we can’t link it to any one source,” said Sue Miller, environmental specialist in the DNR’s Manchester field office. 

The Peosta wastewater treatment system near Whitewater Creek was ruled out because it was not discharging when the fish kill occurred. 

“We will be following up with four farms where we found discharges,” Miller said. “They will be required to find a permanent fix to ensure they do not discharge in the future.” 

All four farms had cattle or dairy operations. 

DNR will consider appropriate enforcement action with each of these producers. 

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