Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas is hauling the first property owners into court in the county’s crackdown on stagnant pools, an effort aimed at curbing the breeding of mosquitoes that carry the deadly West Nile virus.
Thomas announced Wednesday he filed misdemeanor criminal charges against owners of four properties, including two in Mesa, who failed to treat their pools within 48 hours of being warned by inspectors with the Maricopa County Environmental Services Department.
Inspectors also served administrative search warrants Wednesday, allowing them to go onto the properties to treat the pools with larvicide, and in one case, minnows that eat mosquito larvae.
"With property rights comes property responsibilities," Thomas said. "If someone’s property turns into a deadly mosquito nest, that person must take responsibility for it."
Three of the four properties were residential and those owners face fines of up to $500 and up to 30 days in jail.
One pool is in an Avondale condominium complex owned by a dissolved corporation, and as a business can be fined up to $2,000.
Last year from April to November there were a record 391 cases and 14 deaths attributed to West Nile virus in Arizona, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Findings by county health officials also show that long recovery times are common among people struck hard by the disease.
The mosquito-borne West Nile virus can result in meningitis, flaccid paralysis and encephalitis — swelling of the brain.
Of the 241 confirmed cases in which people got those diseases last year, fewer than half fully recovered.
Mosquitoes lay their eggs in stagnant pools and other standing water.
Someone complained about the pool in the back yard of the home of Pamela A. Sanchez and Flora Peru, 2139 S. Cottonwood Circle in Mesa.
An Environmental Department inspector looked over the fence on March 24 and found the water to be green and stagnant, according to a county document.
Bill FitzGerald, a Thomas spokesman, said it is legal for inspectors to look over the fence, but they can’t enter the property without a warrant.
The inspector left a notice that they needed to treat the pool within 48 hours and the owners also were served with the notice by certified mail, which they signed for, said deputy county attorney Jana Sorensen.
"Forty-eight hours, we believe, is more than enough for people to be able to attend to a situation like that, which clearly is a threat to public health," Thomas said.
The inspector returned March 26 and found the pool to be in the same condition, so the county served an administrative warrant and treated the pool Wednesday.
That scenario played out similarly with the other three properties whose owners were charged Wednesday, according to county records.
No one answered the door at the home of Peru and Sanchez, and an inspector serving the warrant said he believed no one lived there.
Al Brown, director of Environmental Services Department, said he expects 300 to 400 such cases in the next year.
Brown said county records show there are 300,000 pools in Maricopa County.
"We do get enough complaints to worry that there are many thousands of green pools out there," Brown said.