Fish are dying at alarming rates in the Pacific Northwest due to higher-than-normal water temperatures.
Drought and record high temperatures are causing the region’s rivers and streams to overheat, which is killing millions of fish.
“We’ve lost about 1.5 million juvenile fish this year due to drought conditions at our hatcheries,” Ron Warren of Washington State’s Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a statement. “This is unlike anything we’ve seen for some time.”
How hot has the water been? Just after July 4, temperatures in the Columbia River reached the low 70s. Those temperature aren’t usually reached until August—if the water does get that warm.
According the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, high temperatures and low water levels can be lethal to fish. Scientists have found that some fish have died from columnaris, a bacterial infection associated with high water temperatures and low oxygen. The unusually warm winter caused low snowpack, so water levels dropped to drought condition in the Pacific Northwest.
In the Columbia River, hundred of thousands of sockeye salmon have died trying to spawn because of the heat and drought. Even recreational fishing has been halted in streams along the Washington Cascades.
Both Washington and Oregon are in a drought this summer, which hasn’t happened since 2001.