August 4, 2008

Duck Deaths Still a Mystery

By Jennifer McLain

EL MONTE - County officials still don't know what killed more than 50 ducks in the San Gabriel River in July.

The dead ducks were found by a West Covina bird-watcher last month, and that prompted an investigation by the county's Department of Public Works.

"After reviewing the early results of water and soil samples, we still don't know the exact cause of these avian deaths," said Kerjon Lee, spokesman for the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works-Watershed Management Division.

An initial report on the dead ducks was received by the Flood Control District on Wednesday, and now the county is awaiting more specific results, Lee said.

Some believe the cause of death could be attributed to low water levels in the river, located on the borders of El Monte and Industry.

The issue came to the attention of the district last week when bird-watcher Andrew Lee sent an e-mail to local Audubon Society members informing them of the deaths of 20 cinnamon teal ducklings, 10 mallard ducklings, and more than 20 male mallards.

"Today, I stopped by in the afternoon, and it was total carnage there," wrote Andrew Lee on July 22. "All birds were dead, and turkey birds were having a feast."

The e-mail was then forwarded to Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina's office, and then to public works.

"The death of these ducks has hit this office hard," Molina spokeswoman Roxana Marquez said. "We do want to find out what happened to them."

Andrew Lee said he believed that the ducklings "were probably doomed since the pool is drying."

Water was not released from the Morris Dam until July 3, and water didn't arrive downstream until last Wednesday, said Christopher Stone, assistant division engineer in county's water resources division.

But county officials were cautious about making any assumptions before the lab results are in and said they are testing to see whether other factors, such as botulism or water quality, caused the deaths.

"There is the presumption that is the absence of water that resulted in the ducks dying," Kerjon Lee said.

The county's public works department is responsible for maintaining the dozens of runoff streams and rivers, such as the San Gabriel River, throughout the county.

But because the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works does not own the water rights, it cannot decide when to move the water.

The decision to release water falls on the agencies on that own the rights, including the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

"We can't move the water unless it is agreed upon by the agencies who own the water," Stone said.

The federal agency, the Department of Game and Wildlife, will not respond to the issue because it does not involve federally protected species, said Al Donner, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.

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