Lea Lake at Bottomless Lakes State Park will be closed until further notice after thousands of sunf ish died in the water and were washed ashore Friday morning, officials say.
The cause of the fish kill is unknown at this point, says Park Superintendent Joe Kasuboski, though he says the Department of Game and Fish ruled out golden algae, which is toxic to fish, as the potential killer after water samples were examined for a preliminary analysis.
â€œTheyâ€™ve dealt with it a lot,â€ Kasuboski said, referring to the fact that in recent years the algae has decimated fish populations in fishing lakes at the park, in Spring River Park and Zoo and at Lake Van in Dexter.
Kasuboski also noted that the greenish-blue water in Lea Lake was not discolored and there was an absence of a foam substance, two indicators that golden algae is present.
And, he added, only sunfish and a few red shiners were killed, not the bass, carp nor minnows in the water, which might suggest that the killer is specific only to those species.
â€œI was thinking it might have been the golden algae, and they ruled that out,â€ Kasuboski said, noting he was baffled as to how this happened. He said to his knowledge this is the first time a fish kill has occurred at Lea Lake, the only lake in the park where swimming is allowed.
Lifeguards and maintance staff discovered the fish around 9 a.m., Friday, Kasuboski said, but not before five or six people, who had ignored the waves of dead fish, had jumped into the lake and began to swim.
â€œWe had to call them out of the lake immediately,â€ he said.
The parkâ€™s four lifeguards began cleanup efforts Friday by collecting the fish, which are only about four inches long, in five-gallon buckets, loading the buckets into trucks and driving two or three minutes to an open field near a maintenance shop to bury the fish.
â€œThe smell wasnâ€™t too bad,â€ Kasuboski said, because they were still fresh and had not decomposed, â€œSo the smell had not hit yet.â€ It will take two or three days before cleanup is complete, Kasuboski says, and staff had buried about 500 sunfish by Friday evening.
Kasuboski says there will be a financial impact from closing the lake â€” Lea Lake makes an average of $300 to $500 on weekdays and sometimes more than $1,000 on weekends during the summer from a $5 entry toll.
That money goes towards the State Parks General Fund for maintenance and upkeep of the 35 parks in New Mexico. Bottomless Lakes will also lose revenue it generates from renting out paddle boats, paddle boards and life vests, which averages another $300 to $400 a day, Kasuboski says.
Those proceeds go toward paying for the rentals. The camping and picnic areas surrounding Lea Lake will remain open, but the lake will be closed until the Department of Game and Fish can determine that the water is safe.
Further results from the Game and Fish investigation wonâ€™t be known until the analysis is complete, which could take more than a week, according to a statement from the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.
The New Mexico Environment Department may be asked to assist in the investigation if the fish kill continues, the statement read.
â€œWeâ€™re closed until further notice,â€ Kasuboski said.