The Maramec Spring Trout Park near St. James could have lost thousands of fish were it not for the actions and innovation of Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) staff. Last December’s flood not only wreaked havoc in the St. Louis area, but it created a crisis at the trout park as well. The park contains the fifth largest spring in the state with an average water flow of 100 million gallons per day. Three days of non-stop rain soaked the St. James area just after Christmas with 9 inches of moisture. This caused flood waters to swell.
Hatchery staff responded by putting aluminum screens over the trout pools, which is standard flood protocol. The screens keep the fish in their respective pools as the flood waters rise above the walls of the pool. This particular rain event, however, packed a bigger punch. Much of the rain was concentrated over the park’s namesake spring that supplies the hatchery with the cool water trout need for survival. After hours of unrelenting downpour, the spring’s flow began to increase.
“The boil of the spring was pumping out massive amounts of water. It was violently blowing out of the cave, unlike anything we had seen before,” reported Swee.
While there was no official measurement, Swee estimates the spring’s flow during the breach was close to the recorded high of 400 million gallons per day. Suddenly alarms sounded at pool five, indicating a significant loss of water levels. When hatchery staff went to investigate, they observed water rapidly dropping in pool five. Swee discovered the cause on reaching the dam that holds water in the pool; a breach was starting to form with the raging water continuing to cut into the dam.
Hatchery personnel were concerned the spring pool would eventually drop below the rearing pools, cutting off water flow to the trout. In the next few weeks, the spring’s flow slowly decreased and within a month the spring pool had fallen more than two feet. Fears were confirmed that the pool could ultimately be left dry and cause a catastrophic loss of fish.
To prevent this, hatchery staff employed 200hp diesel water pumps to keep the pool flowing. These provided the fish with the necessary water to keep them alive. But at a cost of a gallon of diesel per hour, it was not a sustainable solution. According to Swee, the fish would perish within 30 minutes should the pumps fail.