Bristling with anger, Lancaster County anglers want answers after yet another fish kill at the Brunner Island power plant along the Susquehanna River in York County.
Both the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the state Department of Environmental Protection are investigating the fish kill.
As of Thursday, DEP said it was still reviewing flow and temperature monitoring data of water released from the plant and had not made a determination of the source or cause of the fish kill.
DEP found 150-200 dead fish Monday after they were called to the channel that discharges cooled water from the plant into the river.
But anglers started reporting dying fish as early as Dec. 21 and say most of the killed fish were swept downriver by Monday.
An angler told LNP that water temperatures in the discharge channel had risen to 70 degrees on Dec. 18, while the river only a few hundred yards away was 35 degrees — a condition ripe for a fish kills, according to the angler. Anglers then reported warm water in the channel was cut off.
Fish are drawn to the channel and warmer water in winter.
Fish found dead in recent days include smallmouth bass, walleye, catfish, carp, gizzard shad and shiner minnows. Anglers fishing at Brunner Island reported that, unlike most previous fish kills, a disproportionate number of dead fish were prized smallmouth bass that have been in trouble in recent years.
If confirmed by DEP, this would be the 12th documented fish kill at Brunner Island since 1983. Most of the previous fish kills were caused by too-hot water being released from the plant.
However, the last fish kill, in January, was caused by warm water being cut off from the channel, causing “thermal shock” to fish as the water quickly turned colder.
“I’ve been getting reports over the past few days of hundreds if not thousands of dead fish below the warm-water confluence at the power plant. This seems to happen every winter and it’s getting old,” smallmouth bass guide Joe Raymond of Ephrata wrote to the Fish and Boat Commission and LNP.
Anglers are frustrated because the fish kill happened despite promises and agreements in recent years aimed at preventing more fish kills.
In 2010, Brunner Island power plant’s then owner PPL spent $100 million to build cooling towers to prevent large fluctuations in the temperatures of water discharged into the channel and Susquehanna. That was part of a consent order and agreement with DEP because of past fish kills.
But subsequent fish kills occurred in 2013 and last January.
After the January incident, blamed on an unexpected shutdown of a plant unit, DEP fined new Brunner Island’s new owner Talen Energy $23,898.
DEP also said that that Talen was putting in place “new procedures and equipment” to “allow for a quicker response, and to ensure at least a partial heating of the water being discharged.”
So what happened this time?
Talen Energy spokesmen in Allentown have not responded to repeated calls and e-mails from LNP since Wednesday.
Who will replace lost fish?
Frustration at the latest fish kill extends beyond just anglers.
When contacted by Susquehanna Fishing Tackle in Columbia on Tuesday about reports of hundreds of dead fish at Brunner Island, Andrew Shiels, the Fish and Boat Commission’s chief of fish production services, replied, “We thought this was a problem that had been fixed but there is still apparently some leeway involved in how and when they use the (cooling) towers.
“This should bring it to a head for DEP to address.”
Anglers also are angry because fines levied for the Brunner Island fish kills are not used to replace lost fish. Smallmouth bass, in particular, have been declining over the last decade although it appears they are making a comeback.
Fines are placed in DEP’s Clean Water Fund, designed to protect waterways in the state.