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Fish kill in Minnesota river tops 2,500; state confirms deaths 'did not occur naturally'

The dead fish were first discovered on Tuesday in Rush Creek just outside of Lewiston.

LEWISTON, Minn. — Some conservation groups are sounding the alarm concerning some waterways in southeastern Minnesota after thousands of fish were recently found dead. 

And it's not the first time that's happened in that area, which is home to a lot of trout. 

"They need cold water and there's a steady supply there, better than anywhere else in the state," said Minnesota Trout Unlimited Executive Director John Lenczewski. 

In fact, Lenczewski says recreational trout fishing has a more than $800 million economic impact on the state every year.

"And it's gone up from that," said Lenczewski. "I'm sure it's a billion dollars a year to the state's economy from just the trout fishing in the southeastern corner of the state."

That's why he's all the more concerned about a recent fish kill on Rush Creek, north of I-90 near Lewiston.

Lenczewski says property owners alerted him to about 75 dead fish on Tuesday. On Thursday, the DNR confirmed it counted 2,500 fish, most of which are brown trout. Some of the fish are up to 27" long. 

"People fish their lifetime to catch one of those fish and normally don't, so it's sad to see those big wild fish and that the loss of that to the gene pool," said Lenczewski.

In a statement, the DNR and the Pollution Control Agency say they're investigating and don't believe the fish kill happened naturally. 

"The agencies have launched thorough investigations to look at all possible causes, including whether this was triggered by an extreme weather event. Field crews from the three agencies have collected fish and water samples and are analyzing results to help determine the cause of the fish kill. The fish kill was observed following heavy rainfall in the area on July 23. Such rainfall events are known to result in contaminated runoff to streams and rivers." 

The MPCA also confirms four other fish kills in that area in the last five years, where nearly 1,900 fish died all together.

"We know from the previous ones, it tends to be in conjunction with a rainfall event, but it's clearly something that gets into the water," said Lenczewski. "Some pollutant is being carried in."

The state does have pesticide and fertilizer laws, saying it initiates hundreds of inspections every year. Permits and recordkeeping are also mandatory for people spreading manure. The state says, in this case, it is looking into whether those regulations are being followed. 

"What that says for humans, and I don't know the answer, but it's a question we have, like, should we be eating fish from those streams?" said Lenczewski.

He says setbacks like this are detrimental to the rivers his group works so hard to restore, oftentimes with tax-payer money.

"It seems a big waste of money to allow these fish kills," says Lenczewski. "I think we'd like to identify what caused this and then how we can we prevent this from happening again because it we don't have adequate rules or people aren't following that, something has to change."

The MPCA also said in its statement that there aren't any additional concerns right now, in part, because the water that killed the fish is gone and flowed downstream.

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