Goose droppings: Okay to drink the water, officials say
If you live near Crozet, you might want to know that goose-droppings are going into your drinking water. That's the bad news. The good news is that authorities say they're dealing with it.
Beaver Creek Reservoir, the primary water supply for Crozet, is arguably the area's most beautiful body of water with 104 acres set against a Blue Ridge Mountain backdrop to make it popular with anglers, rowers, and picnickers. And another group has discovered its charms: a flock of some six dozen or more Canada geese, who, on a recent February morning, were feeding on grassroots while keeping wary eyes on passersby.
The once-migratory birds have been targeted by the Federal Aviation Administration as a menace since some got sucked into both engines of US Air's Miracle on the Hudson River flight with 155 passengers aboard. Closer to home and more recently, around 90 of the Canada geese residing in the Forest Lakes neighborhood were exterminated because of that neighborhood's proximity to Charlottesville Albemarle Airport.
The more typical complaint about the hefty water fowl isn't so much that they're a threat to life, but a threat to quality of life with the prolific amount of feces a flock can produce. The golf course at Pen Park, for instance, has long been plagued by green slime on the green– and on the pathways and in the ponds.
"They're a mess," says Meadowcreek Golf Course director Rion Summers, who estimates the resident flock to number between 100 and 200 birds.
When UVA resurrected the Dell pond in 2006, it was designed to discourage Canada geese inhabitation. The university even hired dogs to harass the birds and drive home the point that it was an inhospitable environment.
Canada geese have previously been spotted at Beaver Creek, but the size of the gaggle may be growing.
"I spend time at the reservoirs," says Bob Wichser, Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority operations manager. "I haven't noted any large population." And by that, he explains, he means from 25 to 50 geese. Wicsher had not seen the recent mob scene that was pushing 100.
The good news is that even 50 or more of the waddling water fowl defecating into Crozet's water supply is not harmful to humans, says Wichser.
"All the water taken is treated," he reassures. "Disinfection kills all pathogens."
The South Fork Rivanna Reservoir is the only water source about which Wichser has heard from concerned citizens, with at least one resident complaining about the deposits left on her deck and yard.
In the summer, when temperatures are warm, swimming in a pond where geese are defecating is more problematic because their waste can be ingested through the eyes, ears, nose, and throat, points out Wichser.
While the water authority is in charge of keeping the waters of Beaver Creek pristine– no swimming or gas engine boats allowed– Albemarle parks and recreation is in charge of the land around the lake. So far, the Canada geese have flown under their radar, at least at Beaver Creek.
"We've taken measures at Chris Greene and Walnut Creek," says Bob Crickenberger, parks and rec director. Those two county lakes and their beaches are popular with people– and the geese.
"From a health standpoint, it's not good," says Crickenberger. "Chris Greene– at one time it was out of control," he says of the lake's formerly high fecal coliform count. And Chris Greene also is closest to the airport.
"They are a nuisance," he says, and lists the measures the county has taken to keep beaches and swimming holes fecal coliform free: recordings of predatory birds, balloons, large models of owls, stringing pie pans to reflect light, and contracting the guy with the dogs to aggravate the invasive species.
"After enough time," sighs Crickenberger, "they get used to anything."
Egg addling– a method in which embryos are destroyed by coating egg shells with oil– has also been used, but all these methods aren't enough to keep them off the beaches of the popular swimming lakes.
"From time to time we'll enter into a contract with the USDA," says Crickenberger of the group that did the Forest Lakes roundup. "We use them as a last resort. People get up in arms."