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Bear Creek fish likely died of bacterial disease

It appears nothing could have been done to prevent the deaths of more than 100 fish in the Bear Creek. Manager of Environmental Stewardship for the City of Grande Prairie Michelle Gairdner says the preliminary test results showed a naturally-occurring bacteria called columnaris.

“They think that there was a couple of factors leading to the outbreak and eventually the fish dying,” Gairdner shares. “It was a result of the high density of the spawning white suckers and poor water quality.”

The fish were found in early June, at first near the Grande Prairie Museum. The city thought they might have been getting caught in a stormwater outfall, but they were later found all the way from below the reservoir spillway south to Resources Road.

Columnaris is known to develop in warmer water, as well as in places that are overpopulated. Gairdner says a few days before the dead fish were found, residents had noticed higher than usual numbers.

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“There are some sites that have favourable conditions for fish to spawn,” Gairdner says of the Bear Creek. “Fish will migrate into there, a whole bunch of them, so if there’s a couple of sick ones it makes for optimum outbreak.”

That also could have been helped by extra organic matter in the water stemming from the recent flooding of the corridor.

While that means the City likely couldn’t have taken any steps to stop the sudden deaths, Gairdner says they are making efforts to monitor the water quality. She adds that residents can do their part by watching what goes down storm drains in their neighbourhood.

“When you’re washing your driveway, which we ask you not to do, that water runs down the road into that manhole and into the storm system. It’s never filtered; it goes directly into Bear Creek,” Gairdner explains. “If we can somehow reduce the contaminants that go in, then that will help increase the water quality.”

Tests to detect for any viruses in the fish still have to be done, but officials don’t expect anything to show up.

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