STRONGSVILLE, OHIO - The Bonnie Park Picnic Area of the Cleveland Metroparks' Mill Stream Run Reservation in Strongsville was filled with new green leaves sprouting Tuesday and birds singing. Canadian geese pairs quietly sat awaiting their first gosling to hatch of the spring.
The park had every sign that fresh life was abundant along the East Branch Rocky River. Unfortunately, the very river that usually breeds fresh life in many forms was filled with dead fish; 28,000 to be exact.
Contacted by a tip call to the 1-800-POACHER hotline for the Wildlife Division of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources over the weekend, crews were on scene quickly to assess the depth of the fish kill.
Bonnie Park seemed to be ground zero for the spill at first, but crews found dead fish as far south as a mile from the Bonnie Park Picnic Area and as far north as the Cedar Point Road Picnic Area. The river runs south to north, eventually to Lake Erie. A total of five miles of river were discovered to have dead fish.
Director of Watershed Programs for the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District Frank Greenland, was in the park with his crew on Tuesday. They were part of several local and federal departments looking into just what killed so many fish.
"We've found some rainbow trout, which are very cold-tolerant fish. We've found 22 different species of fish, all of which are native to these streams, so they're used to cold weather, winter, they survive winters and they're dying now and that's not a normal thing," said Greenland. "Our job is to investigate pollution and deal with pollution sources."
Rumors were abundant among the dogwalkers and lunch-goers in the park on the cause of the dead fish. The Metroparks are working with several sources to find the source and what the toxin is.
"I'm not saying it's an industrial issue, it could be from any source. Illegal pesticides in appreciable quantities dumped directly in a stream can cause problems, people illegally dumping. We don't know what chemical, we're not even sure it is a chemical that's caused the problem. So, what we're doing is bracketing the area where the fish are dead and then fanning out to see what can feed this stream," said Greenland.
NewsChannel5 crews did not see any live fish swimming in the clear water on Tuesday. Greenland confirmed that they didn't see any live fish up to a mile upstream.
"We don't how much of what is killing the fish is diluting itself and flushing itself downstream. Dilution will over time diminish those quantities. But, streams typically can bounce back," said Greenland.
Jarod Roos of ONDR's Division of Wildlife said his crews, "found dead fish, a small amount of frogs and crayfish, but no other dead wildlife." He hopes to have firm answers as early as Friday.
Many of the dead fish were small because the river had just been freshly stocked with rainbow trout and other sport fish. But, several dead fish were easily a few years old when they, too, succumbed to whatever seeped into the Rocky River late last week.