MDWFP officials prepare for Tropical Storm Isaac's arrival
Soon-to-be hurricane could lead to lake turnovers, fish kills
Monday (Aug. 27), as the state watched forecasts of where the huge tropical system and hurricane wannabe Isaac would hit hardest, state wildlife officials were already taking steps to protect resources.
“We started on Sunday lowering our state lakes where possible to prepare for the huge amount of rain we are forecast to get,” said Ron Garavelli, chief of fisheries for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “We let the bottom out of several and lowered most of them. That’s really all you can do.
“And still ….”
Garavelli paused before stressing the reality of up to 10 or 12 inches of rain falling in a very fast period of time in warm water lakes and rivers.
“… (W)e know we are going to have a lot of fish kills,” he said. “If we get that much rain that quick, some waters are going to turn over and there is nothing we can do about it.”
The MDWFP has good reason to fear the worst. It has spent a lot of time and money raising fish in its hatcheries and restocking them in coastal and Delta areas that suffered big losses in 2005, when back-to-back monster hurricanes named Katrina and Rita dealt a one-two blow.
First Katrina sent salt water rushing into freshwater rivers and lakes along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Then, a few weeks later, Rita made landfall near the Texas-Louisiana border, swung back through the Mississippi River valley and dumped torrential rains in the Mississippi Delta in the middle of a hot September.
Garavelli explained that heavy rains of a tropical magnitude can lead to what is known as “lake turnover.” That’s when the cooler rain waters mix with the warm, oxygen-rich surface waters of a lake or river and causes that surface layer to “flip” — which in actuality is just a sudden disruption of the thermocline, allowing a mixing of cooler but oxygen-poor waters from the deepest depths with upper layers.
The entire water column suddenly becomes poor in dissolved oxygen, putting fish in jeopardy. When oxygen depletion occurs, large fish and those fish species with the highest oxygen requirements die first.
“The good news is that we really need some water in the north Delta, and it will certainly be good for the Mississippi River,” Garavelli said.
Meanwhile, with the opening of dove season on Saturday, hunters are nervous about the impact of heavy rains on their fields. Hundreds of sportsmen have spent thousands of dollars and months preparing fields.
“It is what it is, and no matter what, we will deal with it and hunt,” said Jacob Sartain of Madison, whose sunflower fields in the Delta were full of birds five days before the season. “If you get a lot of rain, certainly it creates a few problems. First, it makes getting around difficult in all that mud.
“Second, that much rain falling in such a short period of time or even over a long period of time like they’re saying can wash away the results of your crop manipulation. If we get a lot of sustained wind, then you get problems with your standing sunflowers or other crops.”
Fortunately, farmers have gotten most of their corn out of Delta fields, Sartain said. However, the bumper crop of soybeans, which dominated plantings, remains in the fields.
“They have a great crop, and prices are very high, at record levels, with the drought that has hit most of the country,” Sartain said. “This is where the sustained wind could really hurt if it damages the standing plants. There is probably plenty of time for the fields to dry so they can get in and get them when it’s time.”
Duck hunters, on the other hand, could benefit long-term from the heavy rain if they have the ability to hold some of the water and use it to improve their wetland habitat areas through to the end of November.
“But we really don’t need it short-term for teal season,” said Billy Howell of Greenville. “It starts Sept. 15, and you really don’t need a lot of water for them. We hunt abandoned commercial catfish farm ponds, and you really just want a few inches of water on one end. They prefer shallow, muddy water.
“Hopefully, we won’t get more than just a few inches and that’s it. I’ve already seen a few teal buzzing. We could have a really, really good season if this danged Isaac don’t ruin it.”
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