Tag Archives: Zorinsky Lake

Angling For Safe-To-Eat Fish

May 25, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Eating wild-caught fish from rivers, streams, and dam sites is almost as fun as catching them. But consuming too much of certain fish species is not advised. Mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, and other pollutants can bioaccumulate inside some fish swimming in local waterways.

That doesn’t mean folks shouldn’t eat wild-caught fish—it just means that consumers should know what, how much, and how often they’re eating fish with potential trace amounts of contaminants.

A list of contaminated waters is maintained on the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality’s website. The department warns against long-term consumption of more than “eight ounces per week” of designated species of fish.

Mercury is a natural element in the environment, but it is often released into the air through industrial pollution. Mercury that finds its way into local bodies of water can be transformed into methylmercury, which can then be absorbed by the aquatic life living there.

Mercury exposure affects nervous system and brain development. Developing fetuses and small children are the most affected, so parents and pregnant women should be cautious of mercury. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), on the other hand, are carcinogenic.

Testing for Pollutants

Greg Michl says the benefits of eating wild-caught fish outweigh the cons of mercury contamination, so long as one exercises proper precautions.

Michl has worked for the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality for almost 27 years. As coordinator of the Nebraska Fish Tissue Program, he conducts investigations into surface water quality issues.

Methylmercury and PCB contamination in fish tissues are his primary concern. Michl says it’s easier to analyze bioconcentrations of these contaminants in fish tissues than it is to analyze in the water itself.

“We use fish as a surrogate,” says Michl, who is responsible for collecting tissue samples.

He uses electrofishing equipment to stun the fish before taking tissue samples—small biopsy plugs from near the dorsal spine—before returning the fish safely to the water. An Environmental Protection Agency lab then tests the samples, Michl assesses the data, and he reports his findings.

Methylmercury and PCB contamination appear to be under control in Nebraska. PCBs were first produced and marketed in the United States beginning in 1929.

PCBs gained widespread use as coolants and lubricants because of their remarkable insulating capacities and flame-retardant nature. Unfortunately, PCBs are extremely persistent in the environment and “bioconcentrate” within the food chain. As with methylymercury, fish absorb PCBs as they feed in contaminated waterbodies.

Fortunately, Michl reports that PCB concentrations in fish tissue are on the decline and only a few locations are still under advisory. EPA regulations banned the manufacture and use of PCBs in the late 1970s. Michl expects to see many PCB contamination sites fall off the radar in time.

As for mercury, “The U.S. has a pretty good system in place for regulating what goes into the air,” Michl says, “but eradicating contamination would have to be a worldwide effort. The U.S. can’t do it alone.”

Michl says methylmercury has been detected almost everywhere across the state of Nebraska “primarily in reservoirs and lakes,” and “we see it in some riverine systems’ fish.”

Beware of Predatory Fish

Sue Dempsey says there is “no solution at this time” to methylmercury contamination in local waters. For 25 years she has been a risk assessor and toxicologist for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services in the Public Health division.

Her job, in part, is to help protect Nebraska citizens from contaminants in fisheries. “We monitor the fish and issue guidelines for fish consumption and ingestion,” she says. “We advise people on which species to choose.”

On methylmercury, she says bioaccumulation is a concern: “Big fish eat little fish, and it goes up the food chain.” She also warns that regional contaminants, such as pesticides, are a pollution concern for fisheries.

Nevertheless, she fishes, eats fish, and recommends others do the same while taking proper precautions. Dempsey’s advice on selecting and portioning fish to avoid contamination can be found in her “Eat Safe Fish in Nebraska” brochure, which she encourages the public to read.

Regarding wild-caught Nebraska fish, Dempsey says, “I’m big on moderation.” Her brochure advises that bluegill, crappie, perch, and rainbow trout have the lowest concentrations of methylmercury contamination. Catfish are acceptable, walleye and pike should be limited, and bass are not recommended.

Michl advises anglers to watch out for predator catfish such as the flathead, as they have higher concentrations of methylmercury than do channel catfish, which scavenge for food. But that does not mean avoid them entirely.

Dempsey says PCBs store in fat tissue of fish. “PCBs can be removed easily by removing portions and by baking,” she says. Baking allows the fat to drip away from the fish. Mercury appears throughout the entire fish.

So, the next time you’ve got a big Missouri River flathead on the line, and you have to decide whether to catch or release, consider the risk of contaminants when making your choice. I always advise catch-and-release of big catfish anyway. 

Fish Species and Pollutants of Concern in Local Waters

A 2015 report from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality warns of pollutants in 142 bodies of water across the state. Ten of the waterbodies are located in Douglas and Sarpy counties. The department’s list does not “ban eating fish” from the contaminated waters. Instead, the advisory urges consumers to limit long-term intake of specified fish species from the identified waterbodies “to eight ounces per week (for adults).”

Location—species—pollutant

Douglas County

  • Carter Lake—Largemouth Bass—PCBs
  • Prairie View Lake—Largemouth Bass—Mercury
  • Standing Bear Lake—Largemouth Bass—Mercury
  • Two Rivers Lake No. 1—Largemouth Bass—Mercury
  • Zorinsky Lake—Largemouth Bass—Mercury

Sarpy County

  • Halleck Park Lake—Largemouth Bass—Mercury, Selenium
  • Offutt Lake—Channel Cat—PCBs
  • Walnut Creek Lake—Largemouth Bass—Mercury
  • Wehrspann Lake—Largemouth Bass—Mercury
  • West Papillion Creek—Carp—PCBs, Mercury

For more information, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health produced the brochures “Eat Safe Fish in Nebraska” (dhhs.ne.gov/publichealth/documents/fishbrochureenglish.pdf) and “Environmental Risk Assessment Fish Consumption Advisories 2016” (dhhs.ne.gov/publichealth/pages/puh_enh_environmentalriskassessment_fishtissue.aspx), while the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality has published 2015 results of its Regional Ambient Fish Tissue Program (deq.ne.gov/publica.nsf/pages/wat239).

This article printed in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

September 29, 2014 by and
Photography by Sarah Lemke

On a homeowner’s association website tucked away under the seventh tab marked “Contact Us” is an innocuous picture of a United States Postal Service van making its first mail delivery in 2008 to a new neighborhood in postal zip code 68130.

Six years later, the mailman delivers letters to some of Nebraska’s most important movers and shakers. Fortune 500 CEO’s, an NFL football star, and top doctors live along tree-lined boulevards and winding cul-de-sacs in the area known as Legacy. It’s a luxury community located at South 173rd Street just off West Center Road.

A proximity to all that is grand gives Legacy residents a taste of the good life, whether they fancy a lakeside stroll or a spin through a shopper’s paradise.

The tranquil, yet inviting area, all roughly 70 lots of it, was once home to a grand mansion nestled among 100 wooded acres belonging to Crossroads developer John A Wiebe.

It’s not a stretch to say that Wiebe left his own legacy, the gift of nature’s beauty in the form of trees and a lake, to the future residents of Omaha’s Legacy neighborhood.

“He had his own private airstrip and his own private lake, so we benefitted from the pre-existing, dammed lake,” says the president of the Legacy Homeowners  Association, Greg Scaglione. “He also planted all of these trees on the perimeter of his lot, so we benefitted from that” as well.

Scaglione appreciates the privacy and beauty that the older trees provide. “The beauty of having those existing 20-year-old trees to then build your house behind, you don’t really have that in
Omaha that frequently.”

He also points to the interesting design created by developer Jeff Johnson of the Cormac Company. “Professional office buildings are contiguous to our neighborhood. That’s the way the developer wanted it. It’s called high density,” he says. “Once you get on the other side of the hill, you don’t see any of that. You don’t see Life Time Fitness. You don’t see West Center Road. You don’t see the office buildings. It’s like all of a sudden you’re in this little community.”

The Wiebe Reservoir is a popular spot for fishing, and bass, bluegill, and crappie are stocked by the association. “The neighbors are very engaging. You’ll go down to the lake and there will be families fishing. The whole family is out there with the rods
and reels,” he says.

The residents meet annually at a pot-luck picnic by the lake. But impromptu gatherings happen frequently. “Everyone is very welcoming. There’s a lot of parties,” Scaglione says.

With the neighborhood’s proximity to Zorinsky Lake and its trails, it is not uncommon to spot wild turkeys, deer, and the occasional butterfly or two. But should you decide to walk just a few minutes toward West Center Road, you can snag a Venti Latte from your favorite barista.

“The uniqueness of the neighborhood is that you feel like you live in the country amongst trees,” says Sallie Elliott, a Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Ambassador and a Legacy resident. You live away from the city, but you can walk to Starbucks. You’re within two minutes of everything. You can walk everywhere.”  She enjoys dining at Baby Blue Sushi Sake Grille and frequents her favorite design store, Pearson & Company, located in the adjoining Shops of Legacy, an area of high-end specialty stores. “It has unique furniture accessories for staging, new construction, and my personal home,” the real estate professional explains.

Elliott says the spacious acre-plus lots at Legacy are unique to Omaha. “There’s a mix of styles in the neighborhood, from Mediterranean to French to more contemporary lines.”

The homes, all upwards of $1 million properties, vary in construction between brick and stone. “Real stone is classic and timeless,” Elliott says. “I’ve mixed stone and brick to try to be more classic.”

As a testament to the area’s thriving development, Scaglione says there are only two or three available lots left. CEO’s of Omaha, take note.

Elliott’s favorite part of living at Legacy is walking along the Zorinsky trail and seeing her neighbors. “Everybody’s out walking. With a big lot like this, you are separated from your neighbors and you don’t see them as much…unless you’re out walking.”

Legacy Homeowners Association Secretary Clay Cox says that he loves the great schools and opportunities available in the area.

“My son started working at Immanuel’s Pacific Springs Retirement Community when he was 14, and it has been a wonderful opportunity for him to learn responsibility and the value of a dollar and the value of hard work.”

He also appreciates his neighbors. “We watch out for each other’s kids and property. We love that our kids can go out to bike, ride, or fish and feel safe,” Cox says.

“It’s active,” says Scaglione. “People are active in their business. They’re active in their recreational lives, so it’s a lively community. It’s not a sleepy community.”

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