HECTOR AMEZCUA / hamezcua@sacbee.com

More than 100 dead fish have been removed from Southside Park's pond after an increase in algae deprived the fish of adequate oxygen.

Video: Algae kills scores of fish in Sacramento park's pond

Published: Tuesday, Jun. 11, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3B
Last Modified: Thursday, Jun. 13, 2013 - 9:53 am

Local residents Deborah and Michael Noble have long enjoyed strolling through Southside Park at T and Sixth streets, taking in the sights and sounds of children playing, and spotting the occasional dazzling great egret.

On their visit Sunday to the park, the Nobles were greeted with a overwhelming, unpleasant smell and a disturbing sight: Southside Park's pond was entirely covered by a white, foamy algal bloom. Dead fish were scattered on the pond's surface.

"The smell was horrible. There were dozens of huge, big fish and hundreds of little fish floating on the water right next to the swimming pool. Everyone was talking about how much it smelled," said Deborah Noble.

By Monday, cleanup efforts had begun at the park, and no visible scum was left on the surface. However, the intense smell of dead fish lingered.

"It smells like a dump and sewage," said Alfred Lobatos Jr., a nearby resident who was out biking with his son, Alfred Lobatos III, on Monday.

Both were perched curiously on the pier right by the crowds of local children playing in the park's playground. They were watching a neighborhood volunteer fish out the remaining dead catfish from the pond, using a branch and some netting.

Earlier they had watched the city's cleanup efforts. "One of the city guys said, 'The water's hot. It's not supposed to be like that,' " Alfred Lobatos III said.

Jose Ibarra, who works on maintenance for the facilities at Southside Park, watched the cleanup crew in action. "They just left with a trailer filled with fish," said Ibarra. "Not full of it, but you know fish are heavy, so they had to come back."

City spokeswoman Linda Tucker said the fish kill was the result of an algal bloom – a rapid increase in the population of algae – that quickly starved the pond of oxygen, killing fish and plants in large numbers.

A peculiar foul smell at the pond was noticed the week of Memorial Day. The city was contacted and sent out a contracted park management company, which confirmed an algal bloom.

The company administered a nontoxic treatment on Thursday. But record heat hit Sacramento on Friday and Saturday.

Tucker said she is certain only one treatment is necessary, and that as the pond's health improves, the smell will dissipate.

About 30 dead fish were removed Sunday morning and about 80 dead fish were removed Monday. Tucker said the city would be out every morning until the situation is resolved.

Tucker was thankful that a voter-approved sales tax is providing funds to help maintain ponds in city parks. "As a result of Measure U, we now have the resources to hire a pond management company, helping us keep the ponds as healthy as we can," she said.

There were no other reported fish kills in the 230 parks across the city.

Southside's pond is particularly susceptible to algal blooms and fish kills. Tony Ulep, Southside Park's supervisor, said similar incidents have occurred at least half a dozen times in the past 13 years.

The exact cause of these algal blooms is uncertain, but Tucker noted that the pond is very shallow – 16 feet at its deepest point – and that it was stocked with a lot of fish.

The Nobles have been residents of the area for 20 years.

They said that 10 years ago there was a similar algal infestation. "There weren't dead fish, but there were two-headed frogs," said Michael Noble.

Tucker said the health of the pond is under city jurisdiction, even though the fish are stocked by the state's Department of Fish and Game.

Noble said a neighbor was visibly upset by a sight that he witnessed: "He noticed some of the remaining live fish sucking at clean water coming from a pipe, trying to get oxygen before they died."

Call The Bee's Ellen Le, (916) 321-1031.

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