Thousands of fish are dying in the Midwest as the hot, dry summer dries up rivers and causes water temperatures to climb in some spots to nearly 100 degrees.
Biologists in Illinois said the hot weather has killed tens of thousands of large- and smallmouth bass and channel catfish and is threatening the population of the greater redhorse fish, a state-endangered species.
So many fish died in one Illinois lake that the carcasses clogged an intake screen near a power plant, lowering water levels to the point that the station had to shut down one of its generators.
"It's something I've never seen in my career, and I've been here for more than 17 years," said Mark Flammang, a fisheries biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. "I think what we're mainly dealing with here are the extremely low flows and this unparalleled heat."
The fish are victims of one of the driest and warmest summers in history. The federal U.S. Drought Monitor shows majority of Illinois is experiencing severe drought, while nearly three-fourths of the state is experiencing extreme drought weather. On a national level, the Department of Agriculture has declared more than half of the nation's counties — nearly 1,600 in 32 states — as natural disaster areas. More than 3,000 heat records were broken over the last month.
In Illinois, heat and lack of rain has dried up a large swath of Aux Sable Creek, the state's largest habitat for the endangered greater redhorse, a large bottom-feeding fish, said Dan Stephenson, a biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
"We're talking hundreds of thousands (killed), maybe millions by now," Stephenson said. "If you're only talking about game fish, it's probably in the thousands. But for all fish, it's probably in the millions if you look statewide."
Stephenson said fish kills happen most summers in small private ponds and streams, but the hot weather this year has made the situation much worse.
"This year has been really, really bad — disproportionately bad, compared to our other years," he said.
Stephenson said a large number of dead fish were sucked into an intake screen near Powerton Lake in central Illinois, lowering water levels and forcing a temporary shutdown at a nearby power plant. A spokesman for Edison International, which runs the coal-fired plant, said workers shut down one of its two generators for several hours two weeks ago because of extreme heat and low water levels at the lake, which is used for cooling.
Despite recent storms scattering the state, the drought numbers have remained steadily high, with nearly all of the state eligible for drought help.
Homeowners report foundations are shifting due to the drought, and the repairs generally aren't covered by insurance.
Some houses in the region have visible gaps and large cracks in their siding, brickwork and drywall, and residents are experiencing sticking windows and doors due to a lack of moisture in the houses' clay foundations.