July 3, 2008
Pollution From Dam is Still a Concern
By Sheri McWhirter, The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.
Jul. 3--VANDERBILT -- The Pigeon River still doesn't run clear, nearly two weeks after a large sediment release from a private dam rushed downstream and decimated the blue-ribbon trout fishery.
State environmental officials are trying to gauge damage done to the river and its inhabitants after a dam in the Pigeon River Country State Forest opened June 22 and released a large amount of silt.
The investigation isn't finished, but may result in criminal charges or sanctions against the dam operators, as well as fines and restitution to the state, officials said.
"This is an absolute catastrophe. This has killed the river," said John Walters, president of the Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
Sediment killed fish either by thermal shock or clogged gills. Some stretches of the river are devoid of trout and those fish that did survive aren't out of danger yet.
Suspended silt in the water above and below the dam continues to choke the river for miles downstream, Walters said.
Fishery experts with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources checked for living trout and signs that the fish moved down river or into tributaries to escape harm.
The signs aren't good, said Dave Borgeson, DNR fishery supervisor.
"The trout population is far lower than what we'd expect. We know there was a significant fish kill," he said.
Officials with the state Department of Environmental Quality are investigating whether the sediment flush was caused by a mechanical problem at the dam or human error, which will help determine whether criminal charges will be pursued, said Bob McCann, agency spokesman.
Potential water quality and dam safety violations also are under review, he said.
"It's disheartening to see this happen because it's a very ecologically rich watershed," McCann said.
Fishing regulations on the Pigeon won't change because of the incident, although anglers are not expected in some spots until the trout recover, Borgeson said.
Some anglers and conservationists want the dam removed, especially with its history of a similar sediment release and fish kill there in 1984, both Walters and Borgeson said.
Ian Wylie, manager at the Song of the Morning Ranch yoga retreat, which owns the dam, could not be reached for comment. He previously declined to discuss details of the incident.
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