Thousands of dead fish wash up at Lake Wichita

Published: Sep. 1, 2022 at 7:05 PM CDT
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WICHITA FALLS, Texas (KAUZ) - Thousands of dead fish are washing up on the banks of Lake Wichita as water levels continue to drop.

It is a mixture of many different things, but due to the lack of rain this summer, wildlife officials had a feeling that this could occur because they have seen it happen in the past.

“It is just a recipe for disaster,” Robert Mauk, Texas Parks and Wildlife Inland Fisheries district supervisor, said.

Thousands of dead fish are along the bank at Lake Wichita as a result from dissolved oxygen or DO. Officials said this is something they see occur every few years.

“I went out there yesterday as well as one of my game wardens and I know the fish die-off levels this year are a little worse than in previous years,” Brandon Rose, captain game warden at the Wichita Falls office, said.

The low lake levels are a big part of the die-off; a lack of rain means fewer plants in the lake producing oxygen for the fish. When a lake goes long periods without rainfall and then receives an abundance, followed by cloud cover for the coming days, it results in more negative things than positive.

“It does cause algae problems because there is that imbalance in the water,” Garrett James, KAUZ News Channel 6 First Alert Meteorologist, said. “I know getting a bunch of fresh rain can throw off the PH of lake levels and that can cause some of these blooms to try and occur.”

“Because of the photosynthesis of the algae, what they do is take up oxygen at night, release it during the day,” Mauk said. “We don’t get as much release during the day when it is cloudy so we end up with a lot lower DO.”

Officials said instances like this are tricky because it is obvious rain is needed, but it ends up being a give and take situation.

“We are still way behind on our rainfall totals despite us actually seeing improvement with today’s drought tracker and the drought monitor actually improving here,” James said.

Wildlife officials said nothing can really be done about the thousands of fish along the bank so nature will just take its course.

“When I was down here a couple days ago, there was a coyote out probably eating some,” Mauk said. “I have seen some snakes eating some. Birds, there are a lot of birds out here.”

Officials said while it might take some time, the fish population will grow and return to normal.

“All kinds of fish are dying,” Rose said. “There is all the catfish that were in there, the channel cats, the blue cats. We saw some large mouth bass and some croppy so I think it is affecting all the fish in there, but it is not going to be a problem bringing them back.”

“We can have some of them, especially crappie, back up in 2-3 years,” Mauk said. “Catfish may be a little longer.”

If rain continues to fall and the Lake Wichita water levels rise, there is a positive outlook for the future.

“There has been a lot of terrestrial vegetation grow up,” Mauk said. “If the lake were to come up and inundate it, it would make great fish habitat.”

Officials said this isn’t the only lake suffering from dissolved oxygen levels. Other areas, like the South Weeks Park Pond, are being affected as well. While they haven’t had any dead fish pop up there, they are monitoring it moving forward.