Editorial: Fish kill shows High Rock needs monitoring
The death of thousands of fish in High Rock Lake this week may be completely natural, the result of falling temperatures and heavy storms disturbing oxygen levels in a small cove. But the kill is a fresh reminder of how fragile the lake’s ecosystem has become.
High Rock Lake covers 15,180 acres at full elevation, has 360 miles of shoreline and catches the drainage of some 4,000 square miles of land. As the first of four reservoirs Alcoa built on the Yadkin River, High Rock catches everything that flows into the river from Wilkesboro to Rowan County. The result is millions of tons of sediment, not to mention trash and pollution.
The lake has been on the state’s list of impaired waters since 2004. High Rock suffers from eutrophy, being over-rich in organic and mineral nutrients that promote plant life ó algae ó at the expense of animal life. Algae steals oxygen from the water, which can weaken and kill fish.
The lake is also caught in a tug-of-war between Alcoa, which is trying to relicense its hydroelectric project on the Yadkin, and the state, which wants control of High Rock and the other lakes in the project ó Tuckertown, Badin and Falls. While Alcoa and the state compete for control, nearby stands the Yadkin Riverkeeper, Dean Naujoks, sounding the alarm from time to time ó most recently over a waste spill in Thomasville, one which he blames for this week’s fish kill.
Whoever prevails in the struggle over relicensing may win the battle but lose the war if the condition of High Rock Lake continues to deteriorate. The state is monitoring the situation and is supposed to soon complete its plan for improving water quality. Thank goodness. A fish kill on a small cove is not an environmental disaster, but it does have the feeling of an omen.