Big Spring Hatchery evacuates trout due to flood threat

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About 150,000 trout from the Big Spring Hatchery in Clayton County were evacuated Wednesday night in anticipation of flood waters topping the hatchery's levy.

You know the flooding is bad when even fish have to be evacuated.

In what became an overnight operation Wednesday, an estimated 150,000 rainbow and brook trout were evacuated from the Big Spring Hatchery located on the banks of the Turkey River near Elkader in Clayton County, according to Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) spokesperson Kevin Baskins said Friday.

Recent heavy rains in northeast Iowa have caused the level of the Turkey River to reach the top of a levy protecting the hatchery. With the potential of the hatchery flooding, DNR fisheries staff spent most of a day, starting Wednesday afternoon and running through Thursday afternoon, moving the trout to the Decorah and Manchester hatcheries, Baskins said.

Since it takes approximately 15 months to raise trout to catchable size, the move was necessary to ensure there are trout available for stocking for the rest of this year and into next year. Trout from the Big Springs Hatchery are stocked into 15 different coldwater streams in the local area, Baskins said.

The water supply for Big Spring comes from the largest coldwater spring in Iowa. Flows from the spring usually range from 20,000 to 30,000 gallons per minute (GPM) but can exceed 150,000 GPM. The Big Spring Watershed is one of the most well known and studied sites in the nation when it comes to information on groundwater in a karst (limestone) dominated landscape.

The Big Spring Basin is a showcase for large sinkholes, losing streams and caves.

According to the DNR, the Decorah hatchery has not been affected by flooding but has been affected by highly turbid spring water that feeds the hatchery. Stocking out of the Decorah and Big Spring Hatcheries will be postponed until water levels recede and the stocking roads are dry enough to drive on.

Baskins said the Manchester hatchery has not been impacted and will continue to stock streams as conditions allow.

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A trout must grow about 15 months before reaching a size suitable for stocking.
A trout must grow about 15 months before reaching a size suitable for stocking.

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