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Neighbors Told To Expect Foul-Smelling Air as Cholera Pond is Drained

"To mitigate what we can, we have heavy equipment ordered -- to try and keep the area as fresh as possible -- but it is going to smell."

SBSA’s Popular Bird-Watching Pond to Be Drained after Apparent Attack of Avian Cholera Kills 150 Ducks Photo: South Bayside System Authority
SBSA’s Popular Bird-Watching Pond to Be Drained after Apparent Attack of Avian Cholera Kills 150 Ducks Photo: South Bayside System Authority
An effort is under way at a pond in Redwood City to contain an outbreak of avian cholera that federal wildlife officials say has killed about 200 ducks and other birds in recent weeks.

The birds were collected and tested after they started dying in droves at the 8-acre man-made pond, which is adjacent to the South Bayside System Authority's wastewater plant at 1400 Radio Road.

The pond is being drained to allow the bottom soil to dry out -- a process that started on Friday and could take months to complete, SBSA General Manager Dan Child said. "The process is going well so far," Child said. "We're starting to see the exposed bottom around the edges."

The pond consists of treated water from the SBSA facility.

As the water is drained back into facility, acres of bird excrement are likely to be exposed, which Child said could send strong odors toward a nearby office park and residential neighborhood. "To mitigate what we can, we have heavy equipment ordered and coming in to try and keep the area as fresh as possible -- but it is going to smell," he said.

No neighbors have complained so far, although that could change as the mud and excrement heat up in potentially record high temperatures forecast for the Bay Area this week, Child said. "So far the odors are not too bad," he said.

Wildlife officials believe the bird deaths could be connected to a previous outbreak of avian cholera in Hayward, but that has not been confirmed. Avian cholera can be fatal to birds but does not pose a threat to humans, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife Lt. Patrick Foy said the disease is common in the state. "Avian cholera is strain of bacteria that has affected birds for generations," Foy said. "It's something that we see every single year."

Foy said avian cholera was detected in the East Bay along the Hayward Regional Shoreline both this winter and last.

Draining the pond is the only sure way to stop the outbreak in that area and prevent future bird deaths, Child said. "The bacteria will not survive once the soil has dried out," he said.

There was no estimate of how long it could take to drain the pond and eradicate the bacteria, Child said.

The pond was created in 1998 to eliminate dust from the area, which was harmful to the wastewater plant's equipment, according to SBSA officials. Over time, it became a popular destination for birdwatchers, walkers and hundreds of species of birds.

Members of the public who see large numbers of dead birds are asked to report them to Cheryl_strong@fws.gov or Rachel_tertes@fws.gov.

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