Meeboer Lake, located 10 miles west of Laramie, is a natural, shallow depression with a average depth of only 5.7 feet. This makes the aquatic community susceptible to winterkill. Winterkill occurs when fish suffocate from lack of dissolved oxygen. When snow and ice cover a lake in winter, sunlight often cannot reach the aquatic plants growing in the water. The plants respond by producing less oxygen. If the vegetation dies from lack of sunlight, the plants start to decompose, which uses even more oxygen. When oxygen depletion becomes severe enough, fish die.
Winterkill can have devastating effects on fish populations and fishing quality. Meeboer Lake has experienced winterkill events seven times since 1998, with the most recent occurring in 2012. Bottled oxygen systems were installed in 1999 to help prevent winterkill, and worked well until 2006. Mild winters during this time helped fish survive the winter. Continued overwinter survival of fish created an outstanding fishery by 2006, when the average length was 20.3 inches and average weight 4.4 pounds.
But due to severe winter conditions, the bottled oxygen system failed to prevent winterkill in 2007. And with bottled oxygen prices rising, biologists opted to install a solar aeration system in the fall of 2007. The solar aeration system has prevented complete winterkills, but the majority of stocked fish are still not surviving the winter. Meeboer Lake has partially winterkilled from 2009 to 2012.
Fish biologists in the Laramie Region determined that a new aeration system was needed to prevent future winterkill. “Meeboer Lake is a very productive lake and a popular fishery. Around 25,000 six-to-seven-inch rainbow trout are stocked annually in the spring, and by September there are a lot of 16-inch fish in the lake. If we can keep it from winterkilling, we can have 20-inch fish by the next spring,” said Steve Gale, regional fish biologist in Laramie.
Fish biologists submitted a funding request in 2012 to install an electrical line and aerator lines to run diffusers and bubblers during the winter months, but the request was not granted. Then Trout Unlimited came forward with $35,000 to pay for the equipment and electrical service installation. The new aerator system will include a four-compressor, 12-diffuser system that will be powered by supplied electricity and will run 24 hours a day during the winter months.
The donation from the Laramie Valley Trout Unlimited Chapter will pay for the equipment as well as installation of nine power poles to get electricity to the site. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department will pay for the monthly electrical service. The current solar systems at Meeboer Lake will be relocated to Gelatt Lake and Alsop Lake. The solar aerator system at Gelatt Lake overwintered fish from 2008 through 2012, so the addition of another system should further benefit the fishery at Gelatt Lake.
“Due to Meeboer Lake’s size, this new system is a benefit over the solar aerator systems which stop working during the day to recharge,” Gale said. Eleven volunteers from Laramie Valley Trout Unlimited, along with Wyoming Game and Fish Department fish biologists, installed the equipment on Oct. 12.