State Probes Fish Die-Off in Ramapo River Area

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New York State environmental officials are investigating what caused the die-off earlier of hundreds of fish in waterways in the Rockland County portion of Sterling Forest earlier this month.

A spokesperson for the State Department of Environmental Conservation says the agency is looking into a potential link between the die-off and the operation of a nearby municipal mulch facility run by the town of Tuxedo. "We did test the water and it had low dissolved oxygen which was the source of the fish kill," DEC spokeswoman Wendy Rosenbach said.

Rosenbach confirmed that Tuxedo paid a $25,000 fine related to its operation of the mulch and compost site, and that the municipality entered into a consent decree with the DEC and is working to get the facility into compliance with state regulations.

Geoff Welch with the Ramapo River Committee says the municipal mulch site has been controversial with local residents who think its operation should not have been permitted so close to the wetlands that are part of the waterway system hit by the fish die-off. Welch says the die off came after the local water culverts were cleaned out.

 "That effluent came down and zapped the oxygen and killed fish along a stretch of several miles at least. It also probably released decomposed algae  and eutrophic water with no oxygen,” Welch said.

A call to the Town of Tuxedo for comment was not returned.

Back in the 1990s New York State set aside more than 17,000 acres of Sterling Forest to preserve the  Highlands as well as to protect the headwaters of the Ramapo River. The Ramapo serves as a major drinking water source for both New York and New Jersey.