Faltering of Fatheads Baffles Sewage Chief

Who’s Killing the Fatheads of Carlsbad?

After a dozen years in the sticky business of sewage treatment, Rick Graff thought he’d seen it all: complaints about the smell, complaints about what’s being dumped into the ocean, NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) problems, engineering troubles, budget woes, you name it.

But nothing prepared him for the consternation of trying to find out who--or what--is killing the fathead minnows at the state-of-the-art Encina treatment facility in Carlsbad, where Graff has been general manager since the plant opened five years ago.

To keep its permit from the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Encina plant must periodically test the treated waste water by dumping in fatheads and watching them for 96 hours. Under a complex scientific formula based on how many of the fish die, a toxicity rate of 1.5 is considered OK.


For four years the Encina plant performed swimmingly, wavering safely between .8 and 1.0. Then, suddenly last summer, the numbers shot up to the range of 1.7 to 2.0.

Alarm swept through the plant, which serves six North County cities and water agencies. More tests were ordered. Water was taken from different spots at the plant.

The results were the same. Tests were then done on the raw sewage being pumped into the plant to see if it had suddenly become nastier.

“That’s one of the problems of the sewage business,” Graff said. “You have very little control over what comes in the front door.”


In this case, the raw stuff was no better or worse than before. Back to the hunt.

The plant’s pipes were checked. So was the rest of the mechanical apparatus and the ammonia level. Different labs were used to do the tests.

Fatheads from different batches were used--to see if the results had been skewed by defective fish. The numbers remained annoying highly.

The only encouraging news is that sampling has yet to show real-life environmental damage where the treated water is discharged into the ocean. Meanwhile the search for the biological culprit continues, as water board officials watch anxiously.

“Right now, it’s getting to be pretty frustrating,” Graff said. “We know it’s out there but we can’t get our fingers on it.”

Geriatric Wildlife

Jane Zoeller lives off the beaten path near Julian, where she watches over a few pets. A 13-year-old cougar, for instance, and a 19-year-old black leopard, and a trio of timber wolves.

The 33-year-old recreation supervisor for the American Adventure campground has an unusual dream: to start an old-critters home for wild animals. She founded the nonprofit Jungle Animal Wildlife Sanctuary and is seeking funding from foundations and educational institutions.


Her goal is to develop a traveling show of sorts, taking her animals to schools and service groups. She has 2.5 acres in the backwoods but needs more space and a good deal of food, fencing, animal supplies and the like to create her sanctuary.

“People don’t realize how many wild animals need homes,” Zoeller said. “As soon as they’re not pretty, zoos and trainers want replacements. When a big cat’s belly starts sagging, or they’re not fun with a crowd, they’re gone. People think animals should stay cute for forever.”

For the record (although policies at other zoos may differ), animals at the San Diego Zoo are given tenure and are not dispatched just for becoming geriatric cases, says zoo spokesman Jeff Jouett.

He notes that the past year has seen the passing of a 37-year-old polar bear, a 50-plus hippo, and a 51-year-old elephant.

What’s more, zoo visitors are greeted by senior citizen King Tut, the salmon-crested cockatoo who arrived full-grown at the zoo in 1925 and is still going semi-strong.

Baiting Bates

Rep. Jim Bates (D-San Diego) has not heard the last of the anonymous allegations that he harassed female staffers.

In an editorial Monday, the Washington Post used the Bates case--without using his name--as an example of why congressional employees should receive the same protection against mistreatment as other federal workers.


With the help of the Republican National Committee, Bates’ GOP dark-horse opponent Rob Butterfield plans a three-pronged attack this week to capitalize on the accusations. Look for newspaper ads, a district-blanketing mailer and a press conference.

Check the Flip Side

During Times reporter Rick Serrano’s recent exclusive interview with Sagon Penn, the peripatetic Penn wondered aloud about the San Diego Police Department and its treatment of minorities.

At the end of the interview, Penn snatched the tape from Serrano’s recorder and refused to return it.

If Penn is interested in the future of the Police Department, he might want to listen to the flip side of the tape. It contains Serrano’s recent interview with Bob Burgreen, in which the new police chief put improved race relations at the top of his agenda.