PERSHING COUNTY, Nev. (KOLO) -- The recovery could take years. Thousands of fish are dead in Rye Patch reservoir, suffocated by a type of algae that’s deadly to fish.
"There were a lot of fish a Rye Patch. Thousands and thousands of fish died in this event," said Brad Bauman, Fisheries Biologist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
In early October 2015, Bauman started investigating the fish kill. The answer at first seemed obvious.
“When we do have fish die-offs in northern Nevada like this, most of the time it is due to low dissolved oxygen levels," said Bauman.
Tests showed dissolved oxygen levels were low, but not deadly. Months of research led Bauman to a similar fish kill in Texas in the 1980s.
"In the end we discovered that it is a species of algae called golden algae," said Bauman.
The drought had created the perfect storm in Rye Patch. The water was stagnant, low in oxygen, and high in salinity, and it was cold. All those factors are essential in a Golden Algae bloom.
"This algae could have always been there and we just did not know about it and had not encountered it before,"
But now that it was here, it had left in its path a wake of devastation. Golden Algae clings to the gills of fish, preventing them from breathing, essentially suffocating them to death.
What's left is thousands of dead fish and the question -- how do we prevent this from happening again?
"Now that we know it is there, it could be an ongoing issue that we are going to have to try and plan and manage for in the future," said Bauman.
Trophy fish at Rye Patch are now just a memory. It will take years, maybe a decade, for this fishery to recover.
Preventing a future golden algae bloom is all about water chemistry. If Rye Patch gets a healthy flow of fresh water in 2016, it shouldn't be an issue. But if the lake remains stagnant, any new fish planted in the lake this summer could meet the same fate.