Keeper of the Plans

Unexpected consequence of the rain: Goldfish spilling out of Wichita sewers

Fish were spotted in an overflowing storm drain on the Newman University campus on Tuesday. City officials say it’s not common, but it’s not unusual to find fish in the drains after heavy rains.
Fish were spotted in an overflowing storm drain on the Newman University campus on Tuesday. City officials say it’s not common, but it’s not unusual to find fish in the drains after heavy rains. Courtesy

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misidentified the fish pictured as koi.

There are fish in the sewers.

At least, there were on the Newman University campus on Tuesday afternoon.

A Twitter photo from the university’s account circulated Tuesday, showing what appears to be 11 goldfish swimming in an overflowing storm drain, swollen from the recent rains.

Clark Schafer, Newman’s director of university relations, said the photo was not doctored — one of his staff members took it in the college’s main parking lot on Tuesday.

But how did this happen?

Is this proof that dejected goldfish flushed down the toilet continue to grow in the sewers? Was this a colony of cast-off once-pets that have found kinship together?

Turns out that’s not entirely possible, according to Jim Hardesty, the city’s interim division manager of stormwater.

There are two different sewer systems — a sanitary system (what goes down your toilet, sink and bathtub) and a storm sewer system that drains excess rainwater from streets, parking lots and such.

The two don’t mix.

The storm sewer system — the most visible of the two — is connected to a series of lakes, creeks and the Arkansas River.

When those bodies of water flood, there can be enough water in the storm sewer system for fish to swim from lakes to drains and so forth.

“It is not a divine miracle,” said Joe Pajor, the city’s director of public works. “It happens.”

As for the fish in the Newman gutter, they probably didn’t have too harrowing of a journey to end up in the drain.

There is a pond just across the street from the drain where they were spotted — where university officials think they likely came from.

Hardesty, the stormwater manager, said “it’s not unusual that we find goldfish in our system, either in our pipes or certainly in the rivers or creeks.”

“They start out as somebody’s pet and when having them as a pet doesn’t work out any longer, they sometimes take them to a nearby creek or lake and release them into there,” he said. “There’s probably a bunch of goldfish in those Newman ponds.”

Sometimes bass and catfish can find their way into storm sewers. Sometimes even koi fish can be lost in the sewers during flooding.

It’s not unheard of to go fishing in storm sewers, though it is a bit odd — A 2013 USA Today headline declared “sewer fishing is the newest rage in fishing.

An alligator was caught on camera as it wandered around 163rd Street and Donahoo Road near Basehor, Kan. on Monday night, October 8, 2018.

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