Bacterial diseases exacerbated by low water levels and warmer temperatures killed more than a dozen fish last week in the Ogeechee River, officials said Friday.
“The fish are stressed, or were, because of a low water level and rising water temperatures,” Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn said. “Those factors make them more susceptible to Columnaris, and Aeromonas, common bacteria found in the river that the fish did test positive for.”
“EPD’s conclusions are that the low levels and rising water temperatures are stressing the fish and making them more vulnerable to these bacteria.”
The directors of the Environmental Protection Division, Department of Natural Resources and Georgia Emergency Management revealed in a conference call Friday the results of tests conducted on several dead fish found in the Ogeechee River last week.
Wynn said officials will require more time to interpret water samples also taken last week and have scheduled a conference call Tuesday to discuss those findings.
“Preliminary looks at the test results don’t reveal any smoking guns,” he said.
Until the water sample results are conclusive, EMA officials have agreed to keep in place swimming and fishing advisories implemented along the river last week.
Wynn said the results provide no reason to believe local textiles plant King America Finishing, which is allowed by permit to discharge chemical waste into the river, is responsible for any of the fish deaths.
A little more than a year ago, an investigation led by EPD agents determined King America Finishing was in violation of discharge permits, resulting in a $1 million consent order for river improvements to be paid by the company.
Some local environmentalists, including Ogeechee Riverkeeper Dianna Wedincamp, think the discharge violations contributed to the largest fish kill in state history last year, when about 38,000 fish floated to the surface for miles along the river.
Fish deaths during last year’s massive kill were also attributed to Columnaris.
Lee Lihihns III, attorney for King America Finishing, denied any responsibility for the latest fish deaths in a letter released last week.
“Within 20 minutes of receiving the notification, King America Finishing personnel met EPD staff at the Highway 301 bridge and observed only living, thriving fish,” the letter says. “King America Finishing remains firmly committed to working closely with the EPD to ensure the safety of wildlife and residents along the river. The company will continue its efforts to maintain water quality standards and protect the river from future harm.”
Tim Barrett, a regional supervisor with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said no dead fish were collected upriver from the King America discharge pipe near Dover. They were picked up as far as a quarter-mile south of the pipe, he said.
The May 2011 fish kill also began below the King America pipe.
Friday, DNR employees searched the river at four bridge locations and discovered no additional dead fish, Wynn said.
“More rain, like we have had recently, should help out a lot in flushing out the issue,” he said.
Wedincamp urges people to report any dead fish they find to the Georgia EPD at (888) 373-5947 or to her organization, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, at (866) 942-6222, ext. 3.
Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.