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Low oxygen levels kill hundreds of fish at Strawberry Reservoir

Published: Thursday, July 18 2013 5:17 p.m. MDT

In just a few days, hundreds of fish have died at Strawberry Reservoir in an area called The Ladders. The Division of Wildlife Resources said low oxygen is to blame.

Alex Cabrero, Deseret News

STRAWBERRY RESERVOIR, Wasatch County — Hundreds of fish are dying here because the low water levels are killing the aquatic vegetation, and that combined with the heat is lowering oxygen levels.

More than 600 fish have died during the past few days, said Division of Wildlife Resources biologist Alan Ward. Water typically flows through a connector tunnel system called the Ladders section of Strawberry Reservoir, but Ward said that due to the low water levels and heat, the water flow isn't very strong.

"As long as we have really hot temperatures, 90s and 100s, it's going to be more of a pronounced effect," Ward said. "We're going to see more of it happen."

Ward has worked at the reservoir for the past 13 years and said this year has had one of the lowest water levels he has ever seen.

"We just don't have much runoff left this year," he said. "We didn't have a good snowpack last year."

Strawberry Reservoir is currently about 79 percent full, which isn't nearly as low as other reservoirs thanks to a wet 2011.

"2011 was a great year," Ward said. "We topped Strawberry off that year. We had a really good runoff, but the last two years we've been pretty strong into this drought cycle where we're well below average."

Ward said that as the water levels continue to decrease, the problems for the fish and other wildlife will increase.

Ward and other DWR employees are continuing to monitor the water situation, and Ward said he hopes that dead fish don't continue showing up throughout Strawberry. "Fortunately for us, it's just in one small localized area," Ward said.

He said he has seen similar situations over the years where the heat directly affected the wildlife.

"We want to come out and monitor what's going on," Ward said. "The oxygen levels just get low enough that these fish can't survive anymore."

The fish that have died aren't the type of fish that people typically like to catch. Most of the dead fish are sucker fish that came to the Strawberry Reservoir channel to spawn. The sucker fish died when they got caught in low water conditions. Earlier this week only six dead trout were discovered.

"Most of the fish people are concerned with and want to come up here and catch out there on the reservoir," Ward said. “They're still doing well."

Email: acabrero@deseretnews.com

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