The pond in McKinley Park doesn’t smell particularly bad. It carries a slight blue-green tint, but there didn’t appear to be any flotsam or dead fish on the surface on Thursday.
Still, this picturesque body of water is infested with harmful bacteria, a study commissioned by the city of Sacramento revealed last year. As a result, city officials plan to spend up to $300,000 over the next year draining the pond, cleaning the bed and installing a filtration system.
The problem has festered for a few years and was exposed last summer, when a firm hired by the city labeled the pond a “health hazard” because of high levels of coliform bacteria. Those bacteria are caused by the large number of ducks and geese that live in the park – a population that has continued climbing, thanks to an overly charitable public that insists on feeding the birds, the report said. Fountains designed to circulate the water apparently couldn’t keep pace.
A group of neighborhood volunteers began pushing for action, and Councilman Steve Cohn announced Wednesday that he had identified $225,000 in funding from fees paid by developers for park upkeep and development. Cohn said Thursday the cleanup tab could reach $300,000, and that he will ask the City Council to set aside that money in the citywide budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year that begins in July.
“We’ve been working for a while; it’s just hard to come up with the funds,” Cohn said.
The councilman said the pond likely won’t be drained, cleaned and repaired until next year. The city will hold a series of public meetings to solicit input on plans to erect a fence around the pond, before asking for design and engineering proposals.
The city-sponsored study also found issues with ponds in Southside Park, North Laguna Creek Park and Land Park. None of those ponds are as filthy as the McKinley Park pond, and the North Laguna pond was the only other body of water that the study recommended be drained and cleaned.
It was unclear Thursday whether the city has begun exploring cleanup options for the other ponds.
Judy McClaver, who lives near McKinley Park, said she first brought the pond’s condition to the city’s attention in 2011. McClaver is known as a guardian of the pond, spearheading a campaign to dissuade people from feeding unhealthy carbohydrates to the park’s ducks and geese.
Merely emptying the pond and cleaning it might “open up a whole other bag of worms,” McClaver warned. She said the bed of the pond, which was drained and cleaned nearly 20 years ago, might be cracked. She’s also worried about the wildlife that live there.
For instance, McClaver said, at least 100 waterfowl live in the pond and on its islands. There are dozens of turtles swimming in the water after being abandoned by their previous owners. And, McClaver said, two enormous carp – weighing perhaps 10 pounds each – are lurking beneath the surface.
“What are they going to do with all these creatures?” she said.
City officials insist that the public hazard requires action. Dogs – and even small children – have been known to chase errant balls into the pond. Last July, a woman took off all her clothes in the middle of the day and jumped in, McClaver said.
Cohn said he isn’t worried about waiting until next year to start the work.
“It’s not an ideal situation, but we’ll put more warning signs out to make sure no one is under the impression that it’s safe to drink,” he said. “It’s not like there’s some criticality where something is going on and I would call it an emergency.”
The McKinley Park pond has been emptied twice for repairs in recent decades – in 1988 and 1996. A giant, duckling-snatching carp rumored to live within the pond failed to materialize during the last draining.
Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at www.sacbee.com/citybeat.