Sunday, June 9, 2013

Massive Fish Kill In Great Trinity Forest -- Joppa Preserve

Thousands of bloated and decaying fish at West Pond in the Great Trinity Forest, Joppa Preserve, June 8, 2013
There was an old man from the Freedman's town of Joppa named Bad Leg Fred who once ran a private fishing concession here in the 70s and 80s. For a buck or two, he'd let you drown worms for an afternoon in the pond the locals called Bad Leg Fred Lake. Stocked with bass, crappie, perch, catfish and carp the place was popular with locals who wanted a cheap place to fish.

Old Fred has most likely passed away. Unfortunately so has his lake and the fish in it.
Bad Leg Fred Lake, West Pond, Joppa Preserve

That old pond sits inside River Oaks Park, part of Joppa Preserve and one of the trailheads for the Trinity River concrete trail at 4800 River Oaks Road.

The Corps of Engineers calls the place West Pond. North of River Oaks Road and about 5 acres in size this body of water is most likely an old gravel pit excavated for dam construction and improvement of Lemmon Lake which sits due east. An archeological site was identified there in the 1940s and is noted on the inset map as 41DL78. The pond was most likely used in the 50s and 60s to draw water for cement manufacturing.

The pond has no true inlet or outlet. When the Trinity Forest Trail was constructed in 2008-2009 the design did not take into account the complex storm water runoff that feeds West Pond and Lemmon Lake. The resulting construction cutoff the water to both lakes. The small channelized creek that once fed the lakes now bypasses them heading due east for the Trinity River.

West Pond is most likely recharged via a shallow water table. It sits just high enough and far enough from the Trinity River that only the largest floods reach it. As a result the sport fish, the bass, perch and catfish that have been stocked here over the years all stay put. Makes for a great fishing lake that is free from many of the undesirable rough fish that fill other lakes.
Decaying fish at West Pond

I wonder what went wrong here. The pond here has never seen a fish kill according to the fishermen who have angled here back to the Bad Leg Fred era. In 2011 when Dallas saw a record drought the pond held full all summer. This spring the periodic rains every few days have turned the woods around the Trinity River green and lush, the kind of rain that allows aquatic life to flourish.
Dead Largemouth Bass at Joppa Preserve
Clues to what might have caused the fish kill probably lie in the off-color of the water. The once green-blue water is now clear, stained a shade of light brown. It was a mass extinction event that killed all the fish, top to bottom, big to small. Surprised to see the larger carp die off. In the heat of the summers here, the carp are the very last fish species to die in the shallow water of drying lake beds. They can live in what amounts to a muddy pudding. To die in a large pond is a question that needs an answer.
Dead Bluegill at Joppa Preserve

Anatomy of a fish kill
It must have been from an extreme lack of oxygen in the water that killed off all the fish. One could only guess if it was natural or man made.  One of the most common types of fish kills in ponds is caused by depletion of dissolved oxygen in the water. Oxygen must be present in the water at or above certain minimum concentrations for fish to survive. The symptoms of an oxygen depletion fish kill are as follows--the fish will be swimming near the surface, attempting to gulp air; large fish will be killed first, followed by smaller fish; the kill will occur at night or in the early morning hours; the majority of fish will be killed within a few hours time.
Dead Buffalofish at Joppa Preserve

Oxygen depletion fish kills are most commonly caused by a die-off of the microscopic green plants (phytoplankton) in the pond, or overturns in which oxygen deficient water from the deeper levels of the pond mixes with water in the upper levels. Phytoplankton imparts a green color to the water in a healthy pond. It is essential as part of the food chain and as a supplier of oxygen. A sudden die-off of these plants may occur when the plants use more oxygen than they supply to the pond. As the phytoplankton die and decompose, the remaining oxygen in the pond is consumed and within a short time, a fish kill occurs due to oxygen depletion.

I'm not sure what caused the die off to be honest. The absence of turtles, frogs and birds might suggest something man made. A nearby railroad line and a tractor trailer lot sit just to the west. 

The Fallout

Leroy and Oliver at West Pond
One of the only public fishing spots accessible to South Dallas residents, the pond here has been a haven for anglers without the means of transportation to other larger bodies of water. Some take DART. Some hitchhike. Some walk. Some walk miles to get here. I feel for those folks. Their refuge from the day to day grind has evaporated for the summer.

Little Lemmon Lake went dry last summer and has only refilled due to spring rains. The customary winter rains that usually send the Trinity out of her banks did not flood the Great Trinity Forest, leaving Little Lemmon Lake without any fish. It's as barren as West Pond.

A historic grove of oaks sit adjacent to the pond. Since emancipation the oaks have served as a traditional gathering spot for Juneteenth events and many family reunions. A damn shame that the focal point of the park, the pond, is now devoid of fish.

The wildlife will need to find a new place to find food. Buffalo fish are a favorite meal of the resident River Otters. The fish kill will put them in a bind as they need to find a new place to hunt for food.

Downed lines in the River Oaks Parking Lot

How the lake gets restocked and whatever caused the problem in the first place will be something not likely to be fixed soon. Even 311 calls to get the downed powerlines that have been knocked out for over a month have not yielded results.


  1. The city seems serious about transferring public money to private hands through parks department projects like the horse park and the standing wave boondoggle. They do not seem serious about protecting public safety, or protecting and maintaining the public parks they have constructed in this part of town, however.

  2. Has there been any investigation by either city or state personnel of the fish kill? If so, what conclusions have been reached? The odd color and the water clarity might be indicative of "golden algae":

    Golden algae blooms are most common in more saline drainages such as the Brazos, Pecos, Colorado, and Red Rivers, and in cooler months. However, the alga occurs throughout the state, blooms and kills have occurred in other states in drainages with salinity similar to the Trinity, and blooms and kills have occurred in Texas in summer. If the temperature at the lake was below 86 F, golden algae is a real possibility. I doubt that the temperature had reached that warm this early in the summer.

    1. The City of Dallas will not return my phone calls regarding the fish kill.

      I called TPWD and reported it with them. Nothing will come of it unfortunately. I imagine maybe if we get a 500 year flood it might move some fish back in there. Otherwise it will stay devoid of fish from now on.

  3. When it comes to power lines, call Oncor. Do not call the city. Calling the City about power lines is calling a middle man who you hope can relay that message to Oncor. I know Oncor itself can be difficult to get through the phone maze, but once you did get a hold of someone Oncor is responsive.

    I had some ground wiring come undone at my grandparents house, and I called Oncor, and that same day Oncor went to fix it.

    1. The same set of lines fell down a couple years ago, 200 yards further south. It took repeated calls to get someone to fix the lines. It takes repeated calls to get any issue addressed down there. Power lines, illegal dumping etc. I can't get the police to pull out a stolen 2010 Toyota Corolla out of McCommas Bluff Preserve that has been down there for months and is leaking gasoline.

  4. Oh, I meant to mention, the fish you have labeled "dead buffalo fish" is likely a carpsucker, and most likely a river carpsucker. I can see the subopercular bone on the fish (the anterior ventral bone on the gill cover, and it should be widest below the middle on any of the buffalo fish. This one is semilunar (widest at the middle). Also, the color appears to be more coppery-red than gray. But of course, the fish may have been dead for some time and colors altered by the decay process. River carpsuckers are extremely common in area lakes and rivers, while buffalo are less common. They are usually called buffalo by fishers, but they are distinctive once one learns the characteristics.

    Here are urls that provide photos of the two fishes for comparison.

    Unfortunately the carpsucker photo has the person holding it with his hand over the subopercular bone, but that bone is clearly visible on the buffalo.

    1. This place went downhill once the city saw Badleg Fred on the front page of the Dallas Morning News Sundays addittion in 1994 they took the lake from him when he gave free hot dogs chips soda to kids every Sunday shame on City of DALLAS

  5. Have any of the Dallas media outlets done a story on this?

    1. The Dallas Observer did:

      Channel 5 contacted me also and were interested in a story. I told them it was a little late in the process for anything to be newsworthy.

  6. I am wondering if the fish kill was man-made so the golfers on North Dallas can run off the "common man" that use the area for enjoyment.

    1. Well, I don't think the golfers of North Dallas are going to be going to a golf course in that location if it is built. But a golf course there would be a travesty.

      I believe that the fish kill was natural, due to warm temperatures and low oxygen concentrations. It happens every year in bodies of water that have a high nutrient load, heavy algal growth, and warmth.

  7. At the time your published this blog, I was riding my bike and saw the same thing. I called ALL of my city officials, Parks and Recreation and many Trinity River associations. I received e-mail responses that there were NOT aware of the issue and even a call from Paul White with the city of Dallas who was aware of the issue and the Army Corps of Engineers had been notified and working on that issued a week prior to me notifying everyone. I find the Trinity River trail a pleasure to ride but the dead and dying lake made me act quick.

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  9. That's a shame. Looked like some very big carp were killed off.