By Bruce Kania
The Lake’s Story
Fish Fry Lake started off as a seasonal pond in a swale. That swale drained a few hundred acres of irrigated ground along the Billings Bench, one of the oldest irrigation ditches in Montana. The surrounding acreage had been intensively farmed for many decades before we arrived.
Most of the swale was developed to create Fish Fry Lake. But as the heavy equipment roared, we noticed that the swale had also included a dump site where we found bags partially filled with fertilizer. They’d probably gotten wet or old, and a past farmer, because fertilizer was cheap, took the easy way out when it came to disposing of it.
At that time, I didn’t understand the potency of fertilizer. If I had, I may have reconsidered creating Fish Fry Lake.
But we kept at it, and, all told, it took us three years to define the lake’s perimeter. We brought in many tons of cobble and gravel, various fish structures and more. As a fishing guide and an avid fisherman, I drew from my experience and the advice of many experts to design a wonderful fishing lake. Imagine my amazement when, within days of the lake being filled, it was totally covered by a carpet of algae. No open water was visible at all.
We’d also dug out a smaller pond on the property – one directly filled by ditch water, so it did not experience the sort of groundwater inflow that was true of Fish Fry Lake. The water here was beautiful for a time, but late in the summer the first year after the small pond had been dug, my black dog’s coat would take on a reddish hue when he emerged from the water and he would stink. So now both waterways were experiencing some form of pollution.
Floating islands have changed all that and, eleven years later, Fish Fry Lake is clear and stays that way – and it’s all because we figured out how to mimic nature and were patient enough to take our transition water from malodorous murkiness to near-crystalline clarity. And it just keeps getting better!
View of an acre-sized, 27-inch-thick island floating on a reservoir in Northern California. It’s covered by tons a gravel as a safe habitat for a specific species of tern (as well as a range of other birds) and floats in deep water, so even in a time of drought, it’s been inaccessible to land-based predators. In addition, it also hosts a small solar array that takes care of the island’s ongoing electrical demand.
BioHaven islands facilitate the path to transition. And now that they are capable of paying for themselves by generating solar power, questions about scalability are easier to answer.
It may still be the Wild West out there, but imagine public waterways in which floating islands multitask, benefiting life forms under the water line by cycling nutrients through the food web, introducing new plant growth on top of islands, and providing secure spawning habitats – all this while also serving as floating walkways, fishing piers, rafts for solar arrays, boat docks (and even actual marinas). What a wondrous way to transition water back to health!
Floating islands have come a long way in the past ten years, and Fish Fry Lake offers a model that can be applied almost everywhere.
Bruce Kania is founder of Floating Island International of Shepherd, MT, and an inventor with a successful track record in the licensing of product concepts in the prosthetic, orthotic, textile and sporting-goods industries. He originated the idea of replicating natural, self-sustaining floating islands while working at his research farm in eastern Montana. He also runs a think tank for independent contractors through his company, Fountainhead, LLC of Bozeman, MT.