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Orange County

Stench, Die-Off Foul O.C. Channel

September 30, 2003|Stanley Allison | Times Staff Writer

A mysterious, milky white plume that appeared in a Huntington Beach waterway may be responsible for a powerful stench and hundreds of dead and dying fish, residents say.

The Talbert Channel, fed by ocean water and normally supporting young halibut, baby sharks, grunion and crabs, has been lifeless since the plume appeared Sept. 16, said resident Bryan Visnoski, who lives along the waterway.

State and county officials are testing the water but so far are stymied as to what is causing the odor and killing the marine life.

Visnoski said he fears that the herons and kingfishers that have been feeding on the dead fish are at risk.

The plume vanished several days after being spotted, said neighbor John Scott, but the smell lingered until a few days ago. "I thought we were done with it, but then this morning" the smell returned, along with a foamy white substance on the surface.

He added that his wife, Linda, has complained of headaches and throat irritation since the stench invaded the neighborhood. The couple bought an air purifier to rid their house of the odor.

"This is a very unusual situation," said Bruce Moore, a supervisor for the county's Public Facilities and Resources Department.

Samples of the water and oxygen levels have not yielded any answers. And there has been no maintenance work along the channel that might have contaminated the water.

Moore said the problem resembles what occurs when reservoirs are drained and the decaying organisms at the bottom come in contact with the air.

"The black ooze comes out and turns white," he said. He said it also has a distinct odor.

But because the channel is fed by ocean water that pushes up the Santa Ana River, it does not fit that profile, he said. He said decaying algae in the channel may be partially responsible.

Visnoski, who took pictures of the plume and dead marine life, has become the neighborhood resource for information.

"I saw a shark struggling on the surface ... and about 100 crabs that got out of the water," he said.

He said the plume was about 150 yards long and the width of the channel, about 50 feet. His notes from the first sighting detail "dying fish, crabs leaving the water, odor entering our home" and his four sons complaining of headaches and sore throats.

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