On the first Saturday of October, more than 50 volunteers converged around Duck Lake, William Land Park’s largest pond, armed with rakes, gloves and a determination to clean up the park’s pond and surrounding areas.
These folks are called the Land Park Volunteer Corps and they meet each month to take part in what they call “park work days.” The group was created after the City of Sacramento had to cut Department of Parks and Recreation employees by more than 60 percent in the last three years. Neighbors and city residents decided to step up and do their part to keep their local parks running green.
“I think it’s wonderful what the volunteers are doing because it maintains the ecology of the area, and it’s vitally important when you live in such a crowded area that you have a place you can take a walk or have a picnic in,” said Greenhaven resident, Alessia Wood.
Every month for nearly over two hours, the environmentally-aware group cuts, prunes, plants, and fills garbage bags of debris. But overgrown bushes, roots and left over picnic garbage is not the only thing this group picks up. Land Park Corps organizer, Craig Powell, said there are times when volunteers also see dead fish and birds around the big pond area.
“Some of our volunteers use extension nets and weed around the border of the pond. It’s a dark, murky pond. It’s very difficult for anyone to look at to see what’s in it,” Powell said. “Besides the concern of the appearance of Duck Lake, our main concern is that there are a lot of migratory birds, like the Canada geese, and families who fish there every single day for food for their table. We are not aware of anybody testing the quality of this water to see if it’s safe to eat the fish from there.”
Duck Lake was established in the early 1920s, and is located in the western-most part of the park, along Land Park Drive. Duck Lake was drained, dredged and widened in the winter of 1959. In 1998, it was stocked with 370 trout.
Powell claims that at one time he has seen 15 to 20 dead fish floating on top of the pond and that he has called and alerted the City.
“That should raise some alarm; there is something going on,” he said. “The response I got back from the City is, ‘it just happens sometimes.’”
Powell suspects that run-off from the street is the cause. He believes the City has failed to put in new plumping pipes to resolve the problem.
City leaders say that is not the case. While no testing has been done on the water by either the City or the Volunteer Corps, officials said there are a number of potential reasons for the issues the neighbors are concerned about at Duck Lake.
“Duck Lake is filled with well water from the park’s ground water wells,” said Jessica Hess, City of Sacramento Department of Utilities spokesperson. Ponds such as this do not have natural filtration systems and tend to become polluted from the wildlife they attract. And the hot summertime temperatures is another issue; the water is relatively stagnant.”
According to Hess, the pond gets run-off from two sources: the golf course and a drain. The golf course is the main source of run-off. This water flows through some grassy areas which act as a filter to help extract any potential contaminants from the run-off. The drain in the parking lot on 15th Ave, which runs alongside Fairytale Town, sends water into the botanical garden.
“This botanical garden acts as a natural filter for the urban runoff from the parking lot,” Hess explained. “As the urban runoff goes through the garden, the plants and small ponds within the garden act like ‘nature’s soap’ and allow the contaminants to settle.”
Then what about the dead fish and birds seen around the pond area?
Some say it could be caused by people pouring liquids and throwing trash and debris into the pond or on the ground nearby – where it can then flow into the water.
“These, too, can impact the amount of available oxygen which can impact water clarity,” said Hess.
Susan Helay, Birds Exhibit supervisor at the Sacramento Zoo, suspect’s human error can also be to blame, particularly among those who fish out of Duck Lake.
“We get a lot of the ducks that have swallowed fishing hooks, or their necks are tied up in left-over fishing lines,” Helay said. “Sometimes we can’t catch the birds to help them because they fly away. Not to mention, many of these animals and fish get old and die off naturally as well.”
Helay did say that if there were several fish or birds found dead at one period of time then there should be concern, but they have not seen anything like that recently.
“Sometimes the animals’ waste in the water can impact the amount of oxygen available which can impact the clarity,” she said.
Helay added that the well-water that is provided at the pond is considered safe and is used at the Zoo as well.
Councilman Robert Fong said he is aware of the Volunteer Corps concern about the District 4 Duck Lake and surrounding area. He said that the City is doing everything they can to keep the park and ponds safe and clean.
“The water in the pond is being filled with well-water, the same water we use in City drinking fountains,” said Councilman Fong. “I’ve been going to William Land Park as a kid, it’s one of our crown jewels, and we would never do anything to hurt one of our natural beauties.”