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Sunday, May 20, 2007


Deadly Fish Virus Strikes the Fox Valley

A troubling headline from the past week: Deadly Fish Virus Found in Little Lake Butte des Morts. Due to the recent outbreak of the VHS virus, many fish are dying in Little Lake Butte des Morts (the body of water between Wisconsin's huge Lake Winnebago and the Fox River that runs through Appleton north to Green Bay). It's a genuine crisis for the region. In addition to the trauma to aquatic life, there is also an impact on recreation for humans. In addition to decreased fishing opportunities, the crisis also requires the closure of the Menasha docks that connect Little Lake Butte des Morts and the Fox River to Lake Winnebago, limiting the potential for boating and other activities.

My initial reaction was to wonder about a potential link to the disruptive dredging of the lake bottom that has been done in the past year, but I think that may not be the case since there are other places being affected as well. However, I am concerned about the impact of dredging. In the name of protecting the environment, Little Lake Butte des Morts has been heavily dredged in the past year in an attempt to suck up old sediments to remove PCBs that were deposited decades ago. And when I look over Little Lake Butte des Morts and observe the dredging, I am honestly stunned at how disruptive it is. Huge mounds of the lake bottom are sucked up through pipes and pumps driven by noisy, fume-spewing engines running 24-hours a day on barges on the lake. The noise and the fumes are an environmental insult. And then I see giant mounds of lake and river sediments pile up on the acres of land set apart for sediment processing. The sediments are dewatered and then hauled away to be landfilled elsewhere, adding to the environmental impact.

You don't need to have a Ph.D. in biology to know that sediments along the bottom of a lake and river play a critical role in aquatic ecosystems. These sediments are filled with many forms of life in balance with other systems. While the dredging must have some kind of impact on water life, the outbreak of the virus in these recently dredge waters is probably just a coincidence since other parts of the US have been affected as well.

The VHS virus does not pose a direct health risk to humans. It is a foreign virus that has been introduced into North America for several years, and may have been brought into our waters from the ballast of a boat or some other means. There have been some infected fish found in the Great Lakes system, which is a great concern. Not much is known about the conditions that allow the virus to prosper, but further research is underway.

Meanwhile, we will have a long struggle on our hands as we work to contain the outbreak and limit is effect over the coming years. Aquatic life in our waters will suffer. This is very troubling news.
Interesting take on the crisis regarding the PCB cleanup.

My research into this issue reveals in parts of the river 70% of the PCB is already covered over by 20" of sediment, that is the river is capping itself.

The VHS thing is completely unrelated and being Lake Winnebago drains a huge area, this virus could likely spread out through that watershed. Pine Lake up in the Crandon area is the source of the Wolf River so conceivably the virus could get all the way up there.
Thanks, Marcus. I agree on both counts. I'd prefer capping - natural or man-made, where needed - versus stirring the contaminants up and disrupting the ecosystem even more, and at such huge cost.
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