The Oklahoma Wildlife Department is investigating after thousands of fish were found dead in a Delaware County creek. Biologists said waste water is likely to blame.
Sager Creek is a four-and-a-half-mile stream that is part of the Illinois River Watershed. It was in the water that Oklahoma fisheries biologists said they found at least 10,000 dead fish.
The slow-flowing water on Sager Creek makes it a swimming hole anyone would want to try, according to resident Shandra Stewart.
“It's absolutely beautiful,” she said. “The water's clear, you can see to the bottom. You can see the fish swimming around you.”
Shandra and her sister, Kimberly Strother, live along the creek; but the last time they took their families for a swim, something was off.
Kimberly said, “There was, like, a lot of dead fish down there, and I was like, 'no I don't want to swim here, let's go to the other swimming hole.' So we went right down here.”
A landowner reported the problem to The Oklahoma Wildlife Department last week.
Fisheries biologist Curtis Tackett said when he and his team arrived, they knew there was a problem by the smell alone.
"It was an odor of partially treated sewage. It really kind of took your breath away, so we knew we needed to get in the stream to take a better look and then we noticed that it was a very significant kill," Tackett said.
Fisheries biologist, Curtis Tackett, said he and his team took water samples, then collected and sorted the fish. They were all small - madtoms, minnows, sunfish and smallmouth bass, to name a few - but still vital to the environment.
“A lot of people don't know about the diversity of fish and wildlife that are in stream systems, but they're very important. They're important to the whole ecosystem,” he said.
Tackett said the kill was pollution-related, and that it appears partially treated sewage had been dumped in the water. He said that caused dissolved oxygen levels to drop and kill the fish.
“It's gonna probably kill the entire reach of the stream,” Tackett said. "It'd be different if you were on a larger reservoir and you saw a few hundred dead fish, that's just a small drop in the bucket, but in this small creek to see thousands of fish...it was pretty large."
Since the case is under investigation, he can't say where the sewage came from, but said it was from a larger source.
Tackett said, “Because of the amount of pollution that's coming from the system, we can tell that it's coming from a larger operation than just an individual or a private citizen.”
Water from Sager Creek flows into Flint Creek, which runs into the Illinois River; though, Tackett said, as of now, those two waterways are not showing signs of deadly pollution.
“The issue seems to be diluted enough as it goes downstream that it's not impacting any larger tributaries,” Tackett said. “The water quality's perfect, the fish are alive, everything's fine there.”
The state couldn't say just yet what kind of punishment the responsible party faces, but said it will pursue some sort of restitution.
Tackett said Oklahoma's Department of Environmental Quality will test the water samples. And because the creek starts in Siloam Springs, he said Arkansas wildlife and environmental agencies are also looking into the kill.
As for sisters, Stewart and Strother, one says she and her children will be staying out of the creek for a while. The other says possible pollution won't stop her.
"Water's water and I love water. I'm not gonna jump in a sewage pond, but I love the creeks, I love the water, love to be in it," Strother said.