Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Fish Alive

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Mr. Campbell had been bringing his little Yorke into the clinic ever since I had opened the clinic a couple of years ago. This Saturday, he came through the door empty-handed, or so it appeared.

“Where is Wolf today,” I asked.

“He is home,” Mr. Campbell said. “I have another problem I wanted to talk to you about.”

“You picked a good day, it looks like I have an empty schedule for the rest of the morning.”

Mr.Campbell laid a rolled-up paper towel on the counter. 

“I was hoping you could do an autopsy on this little guy for me,” he said.

I carefully unfolded the paper towel. Inside was a very dead little goldfish, almost two inches long.

“Mr. Campbell, I could do an autopsy, we call it a necropsy, but I doubt very much if I could find anything useful to you,” I said. “Maybe, I could put this guy in formalin and send it to the diagnostic lab and get some information for you.”

“No, I don’t want to want to get too much expense involved here,” Mr. Campbell said. “I have been losing every fish I put in my new pond. Stan, over at the feed store said I should talk with you about the problem.”

“I tell you what, I will open this fish up and see if there is anything obvious,” I said. “I can’t charge you for something I know almost nothing about. I’ll look, and then we will talk about your problem a little more.”

I have been cleaning fish since I was 5 years old. I never gave it a lot of thought, but I knew the anatomy even as a pretty young kid. I unzipped this fish and looked at the heart, liver, kidney, and gut. There was nothing visible, and without sending tissues to the lab, I learned nothing. 

I also remembered to look closely at the gills. They seemed normal also. But then I thought about Mr. Campbell’s comment about his new pond. I lived up in the avenues, sort of on a hillside, I wonder where his water is coming from.

“I don’t see anything useful looking at this fish,” I said. “We might find something if we sent some tissues into the lab, but that is probably questionable also.”

“Will something must be going on for them all to die,” Mr. Campbell said.

“Tell me about this new pond of yours,” I said.

“It is not much of a pond, I built it this spring,” Mr. Campbell explained. “A couple of years ago, this stream started running through my back yard and down the hill into Ames Creek. A friend was visiting, and he suggested I build a pond for the stream to run through, may be able to keep some big goldfish in it. At least the water would be good. The stream ran all summer long.”

“This stream just showed up, out of the blue?” I asked.

“Yes, almost, I guess,” Mr. Campbell replied. “I didn’t think much about it at first, but then it was just there all the time.”

“Maybe we should get the water checked,” I suggested. “It seems unlikely that you would have a year-round stream that just pops up, especially in that area. I will give you a sample jar and you can bring it back on Monday. I will send it in to the lab, or maybe we should have the city water treatment guys check it first. That might save a little if they can find something out.”

On Monday, Mr. Campbell came in with his jar of water. I had already spot with Ray down at the water treatment plant. He had said he would check it for all the basics, but we would need to send it in if he didn’t find anything. Sandy ran the sample down to the treatment plant.

The phone rang later in the morning, it was Ray. 

“Doc, this is Ray,” he said. “Where did you say this water came from?”

“Mr. Campbell brought it in, it is from a stream that runs through his backyard,” I said.

“Will, I can tell you what is killing his fish,” Ray said. “This is city water. There must be a broken pipe up there. If you have time, I would appreciate it if you could go up there with me.”

Ray was at the office in a short time. I crawled into his truck and handed him a paper with Mr. Campbell’s address.

“How long has this stream been running through his yard?” Ray asked.

“He said it just popped up a couple of years ago,” I said as we pulled into Mr. Campbell’s driveway. 

Mr. Campbell came out the door before we were out of the truck.

“Ray here has found what is killing your fish,” I said. “It seems the stream running through your yard is city water. The chlorine in the water will kill the fish in a day or two.”

“I wonder if I can look at this steam?” Ray asked.

“Sure, just follow me,” Mr. Campbell said as he opened the gate into the yard.

The yard was large and well kept. It was fenced with a white picket fence all the way around it. The stream came down the small hillside beside the yard, ran through half the yard, and then went down the hill to Ames Creek. After a couple of years, there was a pretty good streambed worn into the manicured yard. Mr. Campbell had built a pond about 12 feet in diameter that the stream ran into and then out before flowing down the hill.

Ray was interested in the source of the stream. He went back out the gate and around to the hillside. He was almost to the top of the slope when he turned at called out.

“Here is the source, bubbling straight up, probably a broken feeder line,” He said.

When he got back down the hill, we were waiting for him by his truck.

“We solved your fish problem, but I am afraid that you are going to lose your stream,” Ray said. “The City has probably been losing many gallons of water for a couple of years. We will have that line fixed in a day or two. We can’t help out with your loss of the steam, but we sure do thank you for helping find the water leak.”

“I guess I will have to tear out that pond and fix the lawn,” Mr. Campbell. “I am just sorry that I killed all those little fish.”

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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