Drought Causing Duck and Fish Deaths at Virginia Lake

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RENO, NV - Low water levels, dead animals, and an awful smell. Virginia lake is looking its worst right now and it's all because of the drought.

The lake regularly has its problems, but none like what we are seeing now. The water is stagnant, growing algae and developing toxins that are killing off wildlife. There is really not much that can be done.

"There were so many feathers it looked like there had been an animal torn up. I mean there were thousands of them in the water," said Karen Kravitz.

Birds are dying in the lake, specifically ducks.

"Last year I did not see maybe one or two dead birds. This year I have seen perhaps a dozen," said Tom Taranowski.

In the last two weeks, 24 dead birds have been pulled from Virginia Lake and another 19 have been found dead at Paradise Pond. They have all fallen victim to the same disease.

"In the mud exists the toxin for Avian botulism," said Chris Healy, spokesman for the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

Ducks eat bugs that live in that mud and a few days later wind up dead.

"If the water is flowing through and you don't have it receding and exposing the mud, the answer is it would not be as bad," said Healy.

The problem at Virginia Lake is closely linked to the drought. The lake gets its water from Cochran Ditch, which had its flow shut off at the end of July. Because of that, the water levels have been dropping.

"Due to the drought and the level of the water in the river, the water can't physically enter into Cochran Ditch, so we are not able to bring water in," said John Flansberg with City of Reno Public Works.

The water has become stagnant, which is creating another issue: huge blooms of blue-green algae.

"We are looking to actually improve the water quality by getting rid of the phosphorous source... or the bird feces," said Flansberg.

Fish are also dying in Virginia Lake, but for a completely different reason. Because the water is not flowing, it does not have enough dissolved oxygen. That combined with the heat is creating unlivable conditions of fish.

The city of Reno has a two-fold plan to fix Virginia Lake. First, they want to get rid of the island. That will make the cormorants go away which would reduce the amount of bird poop in the lake. Second, they want to add underwater aerators that will oxygenate the lake and reduce fish deaths when the water heats up.

The city plans to discuss those changes to the lake at a community meeting September 19th. They have been in the works for some time, but are being highlighted now because of the problems.

Even after those changes are made, ducks will still die from eating toxic bugs if drought strikes again and the water level drops.