Catch basins become havens for mosquitoes

Jeff vonKaenel

When I first moved to Sacramento 22 years ago, I was stunned to see my friendly, seemingly law-abiding neighbors take their grass clippings, leaves and tree branches and casually throw them into the street. Wow. It conjured up images of noblemen tossing chicken bones over their shoulders at the end of a meal in the Middle Ages.

I was equally stunned on Monday morning to see two city vehicles come down the street, scoop up the yard waste and haul it away. It seemed weird, but what the heck? I soon started throwing my yard waste in the street, too. I did not think very much about this quaint Sacramento tradition until the head of the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito & Vector Control District, David Brown, dropped by my office two years ago. Until he showed up, I did not even know we had a mosquito and vector control district. While I noticed there were fewer mosquitoes here than in the other places I lived, I never made the connection to the efforts of Mr. Brown’s crack mosquito-killing team.

Mr. Brown came to see me because he was worried and frustrated. He was worried about the mosquito-transmitted West Nile virus spreading throughout Sacramento. And he was frustrated because the combination of the city of Sacramento’s storm-water/sewage system with its yard-waste pickup procedure creates natural breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Unlike most cities, Sacramento’s storm-water and sewage systems are connected. So, to prevent us from smelling the sewer gases, there are small pools of water at the bottom of tens of thousands of storm drains. Leftover grass clippings are often swept into the storm drains, where they land in these catch basins and turn into great mosquito breeding areas.

Street collection of yard waste is also expensive. I once asked Integrated Waste Management’s general manager Edison Hicks how much the city, and thus taxpayers, would save if we converted to yard-waste containers. He estimated around $2 million per year.

So why don’t we convert? It turns out that the privilege of throwing your yard waste in the street was made part of the city charter in 1977. The last time this went to the voters it won, so city council members were reluctant to bring it up again. But the city staff had the ingenious idea of introducing voluntary yard-waste containers. Now nearly 80 to 90 percent of Sacramento homes have signed up for these yard-waste containers. The city is considering having the holdouts pay the true cost of street collection, which would be about $40 per month. I predict that soon, street dumping will be history.

From those of us who hate mosquitoes and hate wasting taxpayers’ money, I would like to extend a hearty thank you to the city staff for solving this problem.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.