Neighbors spoke at the RMA about last week's fish kill on Laguna Joaquin.(Click photo for larger image.)
Murietans attended two community meetings this week, attempting to understand last week’s fish kill at Laguna Joaquin, to voice their concerns and to hear explanations by the community’s governing organizations.
About 40 people attended Tuesday’s Rancho Murieta Association meeting, most of them residents of the Laguna Joaquin area, and about 25 people attended Wednesday’s Community Services District meeting. Each session on the fish kill lasted about an hour. There was some overlap in speakers and content.
Here’s a look at what some of the speakers said at the meetings, followed by comments by Ed Crouse, the CSD’s interim general manager, who spoke for 17 minutes at the RMA. He offered an explanation of what he believes happened, some background on Laguna Joaquin and why a ditch that feeds river water to Laguna Joaquin was closed in the summer.
Sandra Stadnik said she hoped RMA and CSD would communicate better about water quality issues as a result of the fish kill. “I think CSD has had a continual pattern of mismanagement and lack of communication,” she said. CSD should monitor the lake in summertime in anticipation of algae problems, she said.
She said it’s a “weird, sort-of slur” for CSD to call Laguna Joaquin a retention pond, adding, “It just makes you kind of feel like a second-class citizen.” She said the prevailing opinion is that CSD just doesn’t care about Laguna Joaquin.
At the CSD session, Mark Pecotich, board president, said he lives next to another detention pond, what’s called Lost Lake on the South. He said he was challenging the CSD to make the detention ponds as good as they can be.
Tom Mathews called the lake “an absolute eyesore,” “an embarrassment” and unhealthy. “We tell the kids, ‘Don’t get your hands wet,’” he said. He said scuba divers are “scuba waders” when they work on the lake’s pumps because it’s so shallow and filling with silt. “It could be a real treasure,” he said, “but right now it’s really nothing more than a cesspool out there.”
He asked if any fish were gathered for autopsy, to determine what killed them. Because that answer was no, the CSD was trying Thursday afternoon to see if some of the fish could be dug up for autopsies.
New neighbor Greg Wheeler said: “I moved in in April, to move into this beautiful community, which I do like, next to that beautiful lake, which immediately turned green and then the fish all died.” He added to the RMA board, “I understand from everything you’ve said that RMA is not responsible. But you are our representatives. And you should be pounding on those guys (at CSD) all the time.”
Alvin Somers said he is concerned about what the situation means for the community when development arrives.
Brian Donnalley said copper sulfate, the chemical used to treat the lake, is not a chemical that will disappear with dilution. He asked what the CSD proposes to do to clean up the lake.
Mary Brennan, a former CSD director, said there was a similar fish kill 25 years ago. She suggested that RMA take over control of the lake. (Right now it’s a divided responsibility: RMA owns the land under the lake and CSD has an easement to store water there.)
Jay Solomon, president of the Fishing Club, asked for a written procedure of sampling before and after any future lake treatments. He also said the community needs to examine what organization manages the lake
Click this video to see Ed Crouse's 17-minute presentation at the Rancho Murieta Association.
Ed Crouse, interim general manager of the CSD
“Losing fish is horrible,” Crouse said in opening. “And losing fish that we restocked in the lake is horrible. And I don’t want it to ever happen again.”
Crouse, a CSD veteran who has returned as interim general manager twice from retirement, attempted at both sessions to answer questions that were raised. He said the CSD accepted responsibility for the fish kill, is holding itself accountable and won’t do any finger-pointing. He promised to communicate transparently, evaluate CSD’s mistakes, change procedures and policies and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Here is what he said about various topics at the two meetings:
The fish kill: The perception is that as soon as CSD applied the algaecide, copper sulfate, to Laguna Joaquin, it killed the fish. The chemical depletes oxygen in the water. CSD applied the chemical Aug. 3 and 4 and the fish died a week later, Aug. 11, 12 and 13. That same location had been treated June 30, in preparation for July 4, “and we didn’t kill any fish.”
Different this time: “It was a perfect storm of events – the warm weather, the low water levels, the high temperature in the water caused the chemical to, more than likely, get super-charged and kill the fish when we normally wouldn’t have that occur.”
Application of chemical: “We’ve been dosing this area ... for many years, and we haven’t had a fish kill till this last weekend.” The chemical is only used to kill the algae in the cove where the RMA has its pump station, which is about 10 percent of the lake. The chemical was applied in concentration far less than the manufacturer recommends.
CSD staff involvement: After learning of fish deaths Friday morning, CSD staff went out that morning and afternoon to pick up fish. Staff, plant operators and supervisors were on site through the weekend, picking up fish on the shore and working with RMA staff in boats to pick up fish from the water.
The CIA ditch: The Cosumnes Irrigation Association ditch was closed to allow improvement work in the area of the Murieta Gardens commercial development. The ditch was built in 1922 to connect Granlees Dam, on the Cosumnes River, with downstream ranchers. Many of those riparian water rights are still in effect. Piping the CIA ditch, requested by the CSD, is being funded fully by the developer.
Why do the work in summer: That was determined by a Caltrans permit for the work on Jackson Road that’s part of the Murieta Gardens commercial development. Final approvals didn’t happen until June, and the permit said work must be complete by Nov. 15.
Planning: The CSD, developers and RMA have met on the process throughout. Laguna Joaquin was topped off on June 27, before the ditch was closed. RMA agreed to lessen its irrigation, which uses Laguna Joaquin water, from daily to three times a week. The CSD agreed to flush its hydrants into storm drains to help feed the lake.
The timetable: The ditch work was supposed to take four to six weeks. At the outset, leaky valves caused the ditch to remain wet, which couldn’t be tolerated, and that delayed the project 10 days. We’re now in the seventh week; it’s hoped the work will be done next week and river water can resume flowing into Laguna Joaquin.
Water and Laguna Joaquin information: This water, which comes from the Cosumnes, is CIA ditch water. It’s stored in Laguna Joaquin on behalf of the ranchers downstream, who have a right to keep 130 acre-feet of water there for 30 days. That much water is roughly the entire volume of the lake. The lake has 25 acres of surface area and it’s maybe five or six feet deep.
Water releases this summer: There was an attempt to give water to a rancher in July, but the water didn’t reach the ranch, so the valve was closed and it hasn’t been reopened. The only other water lost has been to RMA irrigation and evaporation.
Purpose of Laguna Joaquin: It has three primary functions: (1) As the CSD detention water quality basin. Water drains into it from developed and undeveloped land. (2) CIA temporary storage. (3) RMA irrigation. “The fourth ancillary use is aesthetic, the view corridor purposes.”
Water sources that feed it: Rainfall lands directly on the lake. Runoff from undeveloped areas brings silt, and runoff from developed areas bring pollutants like motor oil. Over-irrigation from the community’s homes brings fertilizers and nutrients to help algae grow. CSD is permitted to bring a nominal amount of water into the lake to help the RMA with irrigation. “And the last but the biggest is the temporary storage of CIA ditch water in Laguna Joaquin.”
What killed the fish? “I know I put algaecide in it. Cause and effect, the finger points directly at me that the algaecide killed the fish. But I’m not 100 percent sure. But right now I’ll accept responsibility and say that we killed the fish by putting that algaecide in there.” But given where the chemical was applied and where the fish were dying, “I just don’t know” if that’s really the cause.
Making it right: CSD will evaluate its communications and emergency response plans. Existing emergency plans don’t cover fish kills. They’ll evaluate the algae-treatment procedures and look at alternative products and do water quality testing before and after the application. They’ll consult with outside experts. CSD will commit $2,800 to restock the lake with fish, the same amount that was spent stocking the lake last year. There will be a push to complete the ditch work next week. If need be, they’ll look at delaying CSD work there until the rainy season to get the ditch back in operation immediately. They’ll work with RMA and the community on setting expectations for the lake.
Bottom line: “You can take it to the bank: The CSD is here as part of the community. We are committed to making it right, and to the best of our ability, we’re going to prevent it from happening in the future.”
I agree that the most important and productive path from here is to learn from what happened, put in place a plan to prevent it from occurring again, and clean up Laguna Joaquin. But to do that we also must understand the true facts about what occurred. Over the last several days there have been a lot of misinformation, smoke, and mirrors.
The fish kill: CSD applied an algaecide on August 3rd and granular copper sulfate on August 4th. RMA requested the treatment with the intent to help control algae that was making it difficult to use the irrigation pump. RMA had no input about the type of chemical or the concentration used. That double application was not normal and the justification to do so is not clear (a single application as on June 30 was the usual dose). CSD determined on August 4th that the algaecide application on August 3rd was not effective. They did not test the water or algae to make that determination, nor did any testing after the double application until August 12th, after the fish kill. Copper sulfate takes about 6 to 10 days to dissolve and reach its maximum effectiveness. This information is easily obtained from fact sheets on the WWW. It was exactly 7 days after application when the first sign of dying fish occurred.
Different this time: Low lake levels and higher water temperature will not alone cause a major fish kill (the State guidelines say anything above 500 dead fish is a ‘Major Kill’). Those conditions may have contributed to the problem, however anyone using copper sulfate (a poison) should consider those conditions. No other event within this time frame could have caused such a massive kill.
Application of chemical: The chemical quickly spread over the entire lake, aided by wind and water currents, thermoclines, and moving fish. Across the lake (a half mile away) at the spillway the dissolved oxygen was measured at 2.7 near the surface and 0.7 near the bottom, on August 13th. That is not enough oxygen to sustain life. Copper sulfate is primarily used to control algae when applied properly, however it is also used to kill fish. Several years ago it was used to rid Lake Davis of Northern Pike and was the chemical which caused a major fish kill in Shasta Lake after a train wreck.
Cleanup: Saturday, August 12 when we awoke to 1000 floating fish in Laguna Joaquin, RMA responded quickly and was on site by 9am with 5 employees plus Rod Hart (maintenance supervisor), two boats (one being Rod’s personal boat), 50 gallon drums, nets, a truck to haul off the dead fish, a backhoe to dig a grave, and all the necessary supplies. CSD had two people with plastic bags and a net.
Aftermath: Hopefully, soon we will get a lake full of fresh water and the 1200 lost fish restocked. The public response has been overwhelming, and I thank all who have offered help and advice. Please do not stop now, our work has just begun. I do hope that this event is the catalyst necessary to finely get CSD to recognize their responsibility to maintain a healthy environment in Laguna Joaquin. I do know that RMA is ready to discuss and find solutions, as we have always been.
I live near the Lake, and by Wednesday and since, we have the most Midge Flies on our front door and around our house I've ever seen..I'm sure it's three times worse around the lake. Now we know that the fish put in last year helped.. I did call and spoke to Paul at CSD to let him know. He implied it was news to him and was disappointed to hear..
Larry - Thank you for recapping what has happened to the lake recently and for all your efforts (especially in the last 7 seven days of crisis!)...Your points are very well taken, especially the fact that we all need to stay involved and informed when it comes to decisions involving the lake.
If there is any upside at all to the recent "murky" events concerning Joaquin, it has heightened resident awareness as to how our little ecosystem works and how fragile it really is....
You are correct, we will not be able to control the midge flies with the current activity on the lake.
We have lost all the fish that we stocked last spring to consume the midge fly larvae and we desperately need the lake to be near full of fresh water. A record hot July also didn't help. We are back to square one about midges.....
I do know that CSD has increased their applications of BTI to help as much as they can.
Paul did tell me that the crew had put in that very expensive larvae killer recently and clearly it didn't do anything. That was why he was disappointed. The water is supposed to be back flowing into the lake by this weekend...let's hope so..
As part of a group last year who worked very hard to try to mitigate the Midge Fly situation on Laguna Joaquin, I can tell you we are all (residents and group members alike) very dissappointed that after some great success last year and early this year, the situation with the midgies has gotten bad once again. Having said that, it's important to remember that the number one cause this summer for their return is higher than normal water temperatures in the lake. What is causing that? Letting the lake's water level fall to ridiculously low levels. In my semi-informed opinion, the approval of the project to fully pipe the only feed to the lake could NOT have come at a worse time of the year.
To think that the granular treatment is "having little to no effect" is wrong and simply not the case. It has been very effective up until these last few weeks since the fourth of July. We desperately need to get the fresh water flowing back into the lake. Laguna Joaquin is at a point now where even the highly toxic Copper Sulfate that was applied earlier this month had no effect on the Midge Flies (even though that was not it's purpose)...Let's all hope the water begins flowing back into the lake sooner than later.