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Cause of fish kill in city stream unknown

Charlottesville environmental officials are trying to track down exactly what killed more than 800 fish and other aquatic creatures this week in a Meadow Creek tributary.

The discovery came a few days after water quality tests showed unsafe levels of E.coli bacteria in Pollocks Branch, a tributary to Moores Creek. The two findings are not related to each other, officials said.

Charlottesville Fire Department staff found the dead creatures after receiving a report this week from a resident near Cedars Court. Biologists with the state Department of Environmental Quality came to the site and counted 842 dead fish, 130 dead salamanders and 40 dead worms in the unnamed tributary.

“The area affected by the fish kill in the tributary to Meadow Creek extended from Barracks Road down to Emmett Street,” city Water Resources Specialist Dan Frisbee said. “Meadow Creek was not affected, likely due to the fact that the pollution that caused the fish kill was diluted by the larger stream.”

Frisbee said officials have not identified a source of pollution as the cause of the fish kill. The kill does not appear to be an ongoing water quality concern, Frisbee said.

“City and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality investigations were unable to determine the source of the material that caused the fish kill,” he said. “DEQ biologists that conducted the stream impact assessment hypothesize that it was caused by a toxic liquid, potentially a surfactant (soap or detergent), but its origins are unknown.”

The fish kill comes days after the discovery of E.coli in Pollocks Branch in the vicinity of Elliot Avenue and Rockland Avenue. The bacterium is a type of fecal coliform bacteria that can cause severe illness and even death. When it is found in water, it is a strong indicator of sewage or animal waste contamination.

Pollocks Branch spends most of its flow in a pipe beneath the city’s streets from under the Downtown Mall to beneath the IX Art Park before returning to its natural banks near Elliot Avenue. The stream then runs toward Jordan Park and into Moores Creek.

“The E.coli situation in Pollocks Branch has not yet been resolved. The Rivanna Conservation Alliance performed additional testing this morning and will follow-up with another round of sampling on Monday,” Frisbee said. “These results will tell us whether the levels are still elevated, and the current extent of the contamination.”

Frisbee said the city is continuing to investigate so that it can identify the source of the problem.

“[We] appreciate the attention of our residents to observe and promptly report abnormal stream conditions,” he said in a statement. “These additional community eyes on our waterways are an important way we can protect Charlottesville’s natural resources.”


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