Governor Corbett has been warning Pennsylvanians to stay out of floodwaters because failed sewage treatment facilities have made them a toxic slurry. Raw sewage, oil and bacteria traditionally pollute rivers when they breech their banks. So what happens to the fish that call these waters home when floods start to recede?
It turns out the pollutants are not the biggest worry, according to Scott Carney, with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, who said a bigger threat is the rushing water itself.
“You have this scouring effect, which is pretty much a deluge of water just funneled down a system,” Carney said. “It pretty much just removes all your woody material and habitat complexity in the short term.”
That means entire habitats where fish live and lay their eggs are washed away.
“Instead of having a lot of different-sized rocks and little nooks and crannies for fish and aquatic life to live in, you basically have a silt bottom,” Carney said.
Carney said fish populations in smaller rivers and streams can take years to rebound. Conservation teams sometimes drop logs and stones into waterways after flooding to rebuild fish habitats.