By Raymond Linex II
Big Cedar Creek borders Olin Williams’ property near Mattie Caston Park to the south and east and feeds into Richland Chambers Reservoir. Or at least it usually does.
“The creek has dried. The whole creek is dried completely,” Williams said Thursday.
At the end of the creek, under the Mattie Caston bridge, a fish kill is occurring, and it is nothing more than nature taking its course. The lake is down almost 10 feet, and when that happens, nature pays a price.
“Whenever it dries up like this, little pools of water get fish trapped in them,” Texas Game Warden Jimmy Woolley said. “Oxygen levels get depleted, and fish die off.
“It’s just nature taking its course.”
Woolley said its common currently in creeks around Navarro County. Fish simply don’t have ample water supply to survive.
With a 70 percent chance of rain on Friday, there is some optimism. But it’s a small window unlikely to overcome current water woes. From February to August, Navarro County is 7.5 inches off on annual rainfall averages, according to totals from the National Weather Service out of Fort Worth. In 2012, the area rainfall was 14.43 inches off for the year.
At Mattie Caston, a popular hangout for fishermen, the evidence of the drought and subsequent fish kill is prevalent. Woolley has taken the calls, and Williams sees it first-hand.
Williams has owned the plot of land he built his family’s home on since 2005, and has seen varying levels of water depletion.
“This is the second time I could physically walk down into the creek bed,” he said.
There is one pool of water remaining, he said, a sink hole he estimates to be eight feet across, and maybe six feet deep. It has fish in it, he said. But that’s it.
He recently saw a number of needle nose gar trapped in mud, but there was no way to save them, he said.
“You could tell the hogs had already tried to get to them,” he said. “But there was no way. Oxygen levels get them, and eventually, they die. Then the buzzards come in.”
There are pros and cons to levels dropping, Williams said. The creek will rebuild habitat and stabilize, bringing in future bait fish, which will eventually draw the larger fish back.
“There are some good things that come out of it,” Kenneth Kay, fish and wildlife technician with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department out of Tyler agreed.
“When you get these low water levels, it can do different things,” Kay said. “It can allow for better sediments to oxidize the nutrients to get used by terrestrial vegetation that will eventually encroach back on the property.”
Aquatic vegetation can adapt, he said, and for a while it will serve as protection for younger fish.
A popular spot for wildlife to take a water break now around Mattie Caston is a stock pond behind Williams’ home. Normally, it’s 15 feet deep, he said. He estimates it’s six to eight feet at the moment. A clay bottom has kept it from drying up, he said.
While it may not be visible everywhere, Woolley said the conditions are ripe for fish kills.
“It’s happening in some of the creeks (around Navarro County),” he said. “A lot of times, you just don’t see it.”
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