Why were all of those dead fish in Brush Creek only killed off east of Troost?

·3 min read

Terrence McKelvy was on his usual 6 a.m. morning bike ride along Brush Creek on Monday when he spotted the disgusting sight of what to him looked like “a million dead fish,” floating in Brush Creek.

The Missouri Department of Conservation, which says the fish kill occurred in a span of 4.1 miles, counted more than 52,000 dead fish. There were several different types of fish, in a variety of sizes, some of them quite large. But why were they only found east of Troost Avenue, with the largest concentration clustered between Prospect Avenue and Benton Boulevard?

There were no reports of dead fish west of Troost, where the creek flows alongside the south side of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Country Club Plaza. Experts with the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Department of Natural Resources say they aren’t sure why.

Neither are officials at the Kansas City Public Works Department, which sent workers out on Tuesday to see if sewage had leaked into the creek. (No, it hadn’t.)

But low oxygen levels in the water might have caused the kill, said Adam Paige, a DNR environmental supervisor who tested the water Tuesday morning and collected samples. The last time there was a mass fish kill reported in Brush Creek was June 1, 2020, and before that on Aug. 2, 2019, according to Department of Conservation logs. The cause for both was low oxygen levels.

Paige said the heat and shallow water could also have had something to do with the mass kill. There’s less oxygen when the water is warm, and in some parts of the creek, because of the way it’s constructed, the water is particularly shallow. If a large number of fish somehow get trapped in a confined area in the shallow parts, “they will breathe up all the oxygen and the fish die.”

He’s still not sure why that would have happened only in the water east of Troost, but it’s particularly narrow where he took his samples near the U.S. Route 71 bridge that crosses the creek, so fish could have gotten jammed up there, died and then floated east downstream. Water samples are being sent to the DNR lab in Jefferson City for analysis, and it will be a couple weeks before a report is compiled.

Even if there was nothing nefarious about the fact that all of the dead fish were east of the very street that has always been seen as the city’s racial dividing line, those who live on the East Side said they were the perfect metaphor.

“There is always trash along the creek here, but this is horrible,” said McKelvy, who works as a heating and cooling mechanic at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and frequently rides along the creek. “This would never happen at the Plaza. They keep the Plaza pristine.”

Residents also noted that the city didn’t seem in any big hurry to clean up the mess. They learned about it on Monday. The city parks department was scheduled to begin cleaning the creek Wednesday afternoon.

And whatever caused the fish to die, those who walk or bike along that creek regularly feel like they had been dumped on: “It’s not like they EVER tend to our areas…,” one resident posted on Facebook.

When LaTosha Simmons and Nae Stotts, who both live near the creek and walk along its banks three times a week, began their stroll about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, dozens of dead fish, covered in flies, still floated in the creek and lined the banks.

Simmons gagged. “Why hasn’t someone cleaned this up? This is the air we have to breathe here in our neighborhood. You don’t see this s___ on the Plaza. Are we supposed to be OK with this?”

Even state officials trying to find out what happened agreed that if dead fish were floating in front of the Plaza it would get immediate attention. So no, Ms. Simmons, no one should be OK with this.

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