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Some Like it Cold – Conserving Coldwater Habitat

May 14, 2015

From the big open water of our Great Lakes to the secluded creeks of our headwaters, we are lucky to have a vast array of freshwater habitats. Some fish like bass, whitefish and pike thrive in our big lakes. Others like our brook trout depend on our coldwater streams. Keeping these habitats in balance is critical for a diverse fishery.

Less than 20% of rivers in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula have coldwater characteristics meaning they are able to support coldwater fish species year round through even the hottest months of the summer. In contrast, there are over 100 warm water lakes in Grand Traverse and Kalkaska counties alone and more than 11,000 inland lakes in Michigan of which the vast majority are warm water.

The way we use the land often tips the balance toward warmer water. Places where water is artificially impounded, like behind a dam or backed up culvert, thermal pollution may arise. Thermal pollution is the degradation of water quality by changes in ambient water temperature. The impounded water is exposed to more sunlight which warms the water.

Temperature changes of even one to two degrees Celsius can cause significant impacts. Warm water typically decreases dissolved oxygen which is bad news if you breathe underwater. The decrease in dissolved oxygen can also be exasperated by increased plant growth, like algae blooms. Thermal pollution may also increase the metabolic rate of aquatic species; processes like enzyme activity speed up changing an organism’s cellular biology. Some fish species will avoid areas altogether where the water is too warm thus decreasing biodiversity.

The rarity and sensitivity of coldwater habitat means we seize opportunities to stop thermal pollution. Projects like dam removal are at the top of our list because they restore coldwater conditions. The warm water species in these areas are able to migrate to the nearest suitable habitat which is usually not far. CRA strives to help stabilize the delicate balance between these habitats creating a healthy fishery for all.

Above right: Brook trout prefer water temperatures from 57 to 60°F.


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Conservation Resource Alliance

Bayview Professional Centre
10850 Traverse Highway, Suite 1180
Traverse City, MI 49684
231-946-6817 info@rivercare.org

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