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High lake temperatures a concern on Flathead Lake

Published On: Aug 20 2013 10:32:36 PM MDT
Updated On: Aug 21 2013 08:02:56 AM MDT
POLSON, Mont. -

Jack Stanford and researchers at the Flathead Lake Biological Station in Yellow Bay have been monitoring the waters of Flathead Lake for 36 years. We're told the lake hasn't frozen over since 1988 and it's warming up each year.

"It's been getting increasingly worse over the last decade," said Stanford.

For some of us, temperatures are ideal for swimming in the lake. Woods Bay warms up to about 74 degrees Fahrenheit. But as scientists tell us, those high temps aren't healthy for our native fish.

"None of our coldwater fish are living in the top layers of the lake right now," explained Stanford. "When you get above 68 degrees the native fishes in the lake are thermally stressed."

Stressed fish will not feed - that stunts their growth, makes them lethargic, and hard to catch. Warm waters in an otherwise cold mountain climate also means algae. Scientists at the Biological Station rank algae as a factor in water quality.

"If we have very big increases in blooms of plant algae in the water, that's a decline in water quality. [It's] difficult to use the water for drinking purposes and changes the items fish can feed on," said Stanford.

Solutions are not easy - the release of CO2 into the atmosphere is partially to blame.

"When you live in a mountain environment like this and we start to get hot, warm days the fires start and lots of CO2 goes into the atmosphere," Stanford explained. "It's a complex problem."

Stanford hopes folks will stand back, take a broader look at their carbon footprint, and make changes to reduce our emissions in the future.