Ending Redwood Shores avian cholera outbreak will be smelly

Redwood City wastewater treatment officials found a way to stop the deaths of hundreds of ducks, but the fix is going to smell.
January 14, 2014 8:00:53 PM PST
Redwood City wastewater treatment officials have found a way to stop the deaths of hundreds of ducks, but they may have created another problem that will affect the sense of smell of nearby residents.

Birds can still be seen flying into the popular manmade bird watching pond at Redwood Shores and they're putting themselves at great risk of getting avian cholera. The water level there is slowly receding but sadly, it may not be receding fast enough to prevent more birds from dying.

The South Bayside System Authority hopes draining its pond will eventually stop the epidemic. "Once it dries out, the bacteria will die and then we won't have the problem anymore," said South Bayside System Authority Manager Dan Child.

So far, the avian cholera, which is very contagious to birds but not humans, has killed more than 200 ducks at the pond. A local birdwatcher first noticed some dead birds last month and contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency inspected the pond and through tests on the dead ducks, found that they died from avian cholera.

"Our best guess is somehow, a bird from the East Bay or that was infected elsewhere, flew into this area and passed away, and contaminated the water," Child said.

Draining the large manmade pond may solve this problem, but it's creating another one -- a bad smell that's going to waft through the homes of nearby Redwood Shores. "Obviously, birds have to do their duty at times and there's several inches of that on the bottom of the pond," Child explained.

More specifically, there's several inches of bird droppings that have built up over nearly two decades since the pond was created, and it'll be several months before the pond can be re-filled because the bacteria needs to dry out first. Any moisture would prolong the process.

News of the bad odor took residents of Redwood Shores by surprise. "With the fires, even after a few hours, it was awful here. So with the pond, I bet it's going to be really bad," said resident Berenice Casa.

"I'll wear a mask," Jamie Takahashi said. "An oxygen mask."

The wastewater treatment plant will try to mitigate the smell as best as they can. They'll bring in some heavy equipment to turn over the bird droppings once the pond is dry.


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