APPLE GROVE, W.Va. — The July sun beat down mercilessly on the crew of men tasked with rolling out a heavy blanket of black across a wide open field. The unrelenting summer sunshine and unforgiving backdrop of black made it an unenviable task, but one very necessary for fish management in West Virginia. Crews are well into the process of replacing the liners at the holding and rearing ponds at he West Virginia Division of Natural Resource’s warmwater fish hatchery along the Ohio River in Mason County.
“They’re basically having to dig up each pond and remove the old liner,” said Biologist Zack Brown. “An evaluation takes place to determine if the substrate is in good condition or needs repairs. They put down the new geo-textile material and place the liner on it. It’s a labor intensive process but they seem to be going rather well right now.”
The liners of the ponds have fallen into disrepair in recent years and actually slowed hatchery production. The liners have outlived their life span and the work to replace them has been in preliminary stages for several years.
The contract, according to Brown, is for all of the liners to be replaced within a year. He and the contractor thought they would be able to easily meet the deadline.
“We have two phases of construction, or three if you count the main reservoir,” Brown explained. “We’re starting with some ponds that were unusable and once they’re done we can use those to raise fish. Then they can move on to the ones currently in production. ”
The facility includes 34 separate ponds and a main reservoir which is five acres in size. The loss of liners in recent months caused some of the ponds to be taken out of service and Brown admitted it has slowed their work.
“We’ve certainly had to make some choices,” said Brown. “In a sense it has reduced our capacity a little bit, but we’ve been able to move some stuff around. We’ve had to make some tough choices, but we are still producing fish.”
The liners are critical for the ponds since the sandy, river bottom soil will not hold water. Over time, the sun and other weather factors break down the liners and cause them to wear out. They must be installed by hand since heavy equipment could damage the new liner as it’s put into place.
The project is due to be complete by the spring of 2018. The DNR and contractor are hopeful with weather in their favor they may be able to complete the project before winter.