Heavy rains impact local waterways

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. Days of rain and cloudy skies leaves many people anxiously awaiting the suns return to get back on the water and enjoy outdoor activities. But local waterways might not be as clean as they were before nearly a half a foot of rain fell in the Ozarks since Sunday.

"When it rains the water picks up everything that's on the ground. A lot of times we see liter and debris being picked up but there's a lot of other pollutants being picked up as well," said Stacey Armstrong, projects manager for the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks.

Rain can carry lawn fertilizers, motor oil from roadways and even animal waste into the streams which can be dangerous if ingested while swimming.

"Bacteria levels often increase during a rain event so it's a good idea to wait until the storm stops and water levels go back to normal before recreating in the water," Armstrong said.

This weeks heavy rainfall could not only impact those planning to get in the water, but possibly those standing along side it to fish as well.

"It can go either way as far as fish populations are concerned , the waters could inundate vegetation in our lakes and streams and allow young fish to survive better. On the flip side of the coin, the nests that the fish have laid in the streams could be scoured out by flooding," said Andy Austin, Southwest Region Fisheries supervisor for the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Experts say there are a lot of variables out there that impact fish populations after heavy rains.

"The impact on the populations is all about timing. If it happens when the fish have just laid their eggs , the stream will get up and scour out those eggs and the fish won't be reproduced," said Austin.

"If it happens after the eggs are hatched and those fish are seeking shelter from predators the flooding can get up into the vegetation and other cover around the rivers and provide cover for the fish to survive," he said.

If you're planning to go fishing once the rain clears, conservationists say using a more brightly colored lure can help, especially if the water is murky or unclear.

If you have plans for swimming or boating, water quality specialists say you should wait a few days after the rain stops to give harmful bacteria a chance to clear out. When you do get back into the water, make sure to avoid swallowing it and wash your hands thoroughly when going from swimming to eating to avoid ingesting bacteria.

The health department this month begins its annual stream testing by sampling bacteria in area waterways and then publishing the results online, giving residents more detailed information on contaminants that may hide in the water.