The front page of MSN today links to an article stating that the OC Fisher Reservoir has turned, as they call it, ‘blood red’. Located in western Texas in San Angelo State Park, the reservoir was once home to a well-stocked population of bass and was a prized spot for anglers, hikers, and bird watchers. Now, it’s a few feet deep, it’s red, and all the fish are dead. This terrified yahoo on Youtube is saying it’s a sign of The End Times and is in dire need of a Depend undergarment (warning: the guy screams a lot and repeats himself).
What’s Causing It?
There are two interlinked reasons why the lake is red. First, the state of Texas is experiencing the worst drought in over 125 years. When it doesn’t rain, standing water stagnates and dries up. it doesn’t take a mental giant to know that less water means less room for the fish and less oxygenated water for them to breathe. This causes them to die.
Secondarily, all of this contributes to an overabundance of Chromatiaceae bacteria. They thrive in low-oxygen water, which is precisely what was created by all those fish gasping their last gasps as the water evaporated and dried up. It’s simple cause and effect.
Historically, water can turn red for a multitude of reasons. The presence of iron of sulfur in the water, the introduction of a contaminant such as Atrazine, industrial waste, or even sewage, or even silt and sediment deposits can cause water to take on a red hue, whether it be a dusty maroon or a blazing crimson.
Wait… Hasn’t This Happened Before?
Yes! Yes it has. Quite a lot, actually. Lake Nyos in Cameroon turned bright red after releasing large amounts of gas into the atmosphere. This was caused by the oxidation of the iron in the water. In November of 2010, a Pennsylvania family’s well for drinking water turned red. In September of the same year, a Canadian couple captured stunning photos of a red waterfall. This case was caused by naturally-occurring red sediments being swept into the water. In August, Lake Urmia, located in Iran, also turned red. In 2007, the coast of Xiamen, China turned red, which oceanographers aptly named ‘a red tide’.
Should I Point and Laugh?
While your reaction to other peoples’ histrionics and fear-driven outbursts are entirely your decision, you should know that red water normally just corrects itself. The situation in Texas will end in one of two ways. Either the drought will end, the reservoir will refill, and the flora of the water will right itself as oxygen is restored, or it will simply dry up. Drying up would kill the bacteria responsible, leaving behind nothing but parched dirt.
Maybe, instead of freaking out over the red water, we could focus on the fresh water needs of the people being affected by the drought. Human beings need huge quantities of water to survive, and it can’t be red if we’re going to drink it, bathe in it, or use it to wash our clothing or dishes. In this letter, the USDA has enumerated a list a page long detailing the ‘natural disaster’ status of Texas counties affected by the drought.
So, while red water is not at all strange, it is indeed a problem. At its most basic level, it simply means that the water is not potable and that people will need to get water from another source. As long as another source exits, there’s really no cause for alarm.