April 15, 2005
In a muddy wash directly behind Santa Rosa Elementary School in fastgrowing Maricopa, pools of brown, film-covered water appear to be boiling under the bright sun.
The water’s movement is the result of thousands — perhaps millions — of wriggling insect larvae that have been left alone to mature and breed despite the efforts of area residents to stop them. Swarms of mosquitoes hover above the surface.
At a time when state and county health departments have been beefing up West Nile prevention programs and issuing regular warnings to the public, residents of the Rancho El Dorado community in Maricopa say nobody seems to care about their neighborhood’s potential health crisis.
"We try to call the local authorities, and the local authorities never even call us back," said 31-year-old Christopher Falcone, who bought his home in Rancho El Dorado in October.
Falcone and his neighbors say someone has been dumping thousands of gallons of reclaimed water into the middle of their community every weekend, turning the neighborhood into a breeding ground for mosquitoes and a potential incubator for West Nile virus.
Falcone has a stack of letters and a neighborhood petition he sent to property manager Associate Asset Management, his homeowners association, the Pinal County Division of Public Health, the Arizona Department of Real Estate, the Maricopa City Council and other elected officials.
Still, he said, the water has continued to reappear each weekend, and he has only seen it treated once with aerosol spray, which has not been effective.
The runoff, which Falcone believes to be from a manmade lake in an adjacent community, often spills out of the wash, across a nearby street and onto the community’s golf course, right next to the elementary school. He said the water is flowing in the wrong direction, possibly the result of improper grading.
"The sidewalk hasn’t been passable since the beginning of the year," he said.
Associate Asset Management representative Steena Stencil could not be reached for comment, but she did correspond with the residents via an online community message board in late March.
In her message, Stencil told the group that the water is being expelled by a local water company, which has a permit to dump as much as 2.25 million gallons per day into the wash.
But residents have also heard other explanations for the water.
Stencil wrote that the water discharge is monitored by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.
"The association is currently working with the water company to come to a solution to our problem," she added.
Reg Glos, Pinal County’s environmental health director, said it is "the responsibility of whoever controls the property" to treat standing water with larvicide.
Still, Glos said he would send a county health inspector to look at the situation and possibly even treat the water if it is needed.
"Any standing water could be a potential mosquito breeding area," he said.
Glos said there are permits that allow water to be discharged into county washes, but he did not know specifics about the Rancho El Dorado situation.
"It’s no problem to go out there and see what’s going on," he said.
Rancho El Dorado resident Chris Riecken, 33, said he isn’t as concerned about his own health as he is for his family.
"I have two small children and an elderly mother-in-law who live here," Riecken said. "My daughter goes to that school."