On Saturday, Sept 7, someone from Blythe took her kids on what was to have been a fishing expedition. The trip was aborted after they found the dead fish that you see in the photo above in in a canal off 26th, in the Palo Verde Valley. She would later tell me that the smell was terrible! She returned the following day and took the photos you see on this page.

Her father emailed me that, “Attached you will find pictures … of the contamination of the Colorado River.  The farmers have continued using pesticides and herbicides that have continued to contaminate the Colorado River besides all the rest of the trash that is thrown into it by the communities above Blythe …. These pictures show all the dead fish and the slime that’s above the water in the canal that will end up in the Colorado River, 50 yards away …. What you are seeing on the attachments according to some of our farmworker informants happens all the time when they are going to irrigate the new fields where they are going to grow vegetables or fruits. ”

Neither the father or daughter wish to be identified. In a subsequent telephone conversation, the father mentioned similar incidents at Needles and Yuma.

A couple of other people accompanied the woman back to the canal on Sunday. One, who also does not wish to be identified, said they were irrigating the field and there had been someone sitting in a truck when they were taking the pictures. She added that there has been problems in that area for years and her doctor (Spellberg), now deceased, used to tell them not to swim in the Colorado River because he was encountering so many ear, eye and other infections.

Sluice gate the D1011-5 canal, located East of 26th street.

Sluice gate the D1011-5 canal, located East of 26th street. Note field beyond.

There were two important facts that I did not obtain at this point. Firstly, the father neglected to tell me that he took a water sample on Sunday, tested it with “PRO-LAB Pesticides in Water Do it Yourself Test Kit” and the result was positive. Secondly, I did not think to ask when the dead fish were found. These were both important facts.

My first step was to contact the San Diego County Water Authority, which obtains 60% of its water from the Colorado River.

Gary Eaton, Director of Operations and Maintenance for the San Diego County Water Authority, informed me that, “San Diego County’s water from the Colorado River is diverted from behind Parker Dam — upstream of Palo Verde and Blythe, two areas of concern that you mentioned.”

The Water Authority directed me to someone in the Bureau of Reclamation, who sent my email on to the US Fish and Wildlife Service Fisheries Resources Office.

Mr. Richard Gilmore, Assistant Manager for the Palo Verde Irrigation District (PVID), identified the area depicted in the photos as the D1011-5 canal, located East of 26th street. He said this “was a spillway structure and not necessarily constantly flowing, and that PVID will periodically dry it for the purposes of plant control (i.e. another potential cause of fish kill). He did drive to the site to investigate and did not see any dead fish. It appears that the photograph showing the dead fish was taken at some point in the past (date unknown).”

(So I phoned the father, who told me the fish were found Saturday.)

A Fish Biologist for Fish and Wildlife Service Fisheries Resources Office, Parker, AZ. happened to be surveying PVID Main Drain on Tuesday – four days after the dead fish were found – and did not see “any sign of fish kills.”

Looking across to the Field beyond the irrigation canal

Looking across to the Field beyond the irrigation canal

After receiving my query, Mr. David Vigil, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Blythe, CA.  “surveyed the suspect canal off 26th, and canals and drains in the area.  He did not see any dead fish as shown in the photo.  According to Mr. Vigil live fish (mainly carp and bluegill) were currently in the area canals and drains behaving normally.  Since he did not observe anything out of the ordinary, water samples were not collected.”

That was when I contacted Renee Owens, a San Diego based environmental consultant and professor of environmental science, who told me that the best way to find out what happened was to take a water sample and the photograph alone should have caused them to do this.

When I asked Ms Owens how the fish could have disappeared, she said there were many possibilities: ranging from someone hiding the evidence to wild creatures who saw a yummy meal.

Then I phoned the father again and asked him to see if the fish were still in the canal. That was when he told me that the water has been drained. That was when he told me he had taken some of the water, found it tested positive with “PRO-LAB Pesticides in Water Do it Yourself Test Kit,” and still has one and a half gallons left. I told him to take some of that to an independent lab.

“Have the water test positive for pesticides is a no brainer,” Owens told me. “I have little doubt all the water from here to Mexico will test positive. What needs to be tested are the various chemicals and in what amounts, toxicities, they are found.”   

“I have  discovered it is common practice for farmers in the Imperial valley to pour their pesticides directly into water canals for a cheap and easy way to apply pesticides while irrigating at the same time, water that locals have told me they use for things like washing, fishing, and even swimming by kids. I find this simultaneously appalling and not surprising, given the uncontrolled power that chemical companies have achieved in the agro-industrial arena.”

yaqui-kids“One need only look at a study in Yaqui Valley to see the neurological effects of pesticide poisoning demonstrated in children. The test group involved young kids living in valleys where pesticides were used heavily, and were compared to a control group living in the foothills where pesticide use was uncommon. The children from the foothills drew regular kindergarten-style illustrations of families and individual people, however the children from the valley could only draw incomprehensible scribbles and lines. (Guilette, E. A. et. al. 1998, Environmental Health Perspectives 106: 347-353.) This and many other studies have confirmed the danger of our billion dollar pesticide industry, and yet most people remain unaware of its well-established links to cancer and other disorders like fibromyalgia, infertility, lower birth weights, increased birth defects, among others.”