LIVERMORE -- Dropping water levels have left dozens of fish dead in a pond at the Springtown Golf Course ¿and neighbors saddened by the loss of wildlife.
"It's awful and it stinks," neighbor Carol Wright said. "It's a shame to see it deteriorate."
Officials with the city -- which owns the course but contracts out its management -- say a combination of drought, permit problems and a broken dam are to blame.
In recent weeks, the water level in the pond -- a habitat for ducks, geese and turtles off Bluebell Drive -- had dropped dramatically, leaving fish floating belly-up on the pond's low, murky surface and shore, along with a smell that disturbed neighbors.
The city leases the golf course to Sycamore Landscaping, which is responsible for maintaining it and the pond. Multiple calls by this newspaper to Sycamore management were not returned. On Friday, however, a course employee who refused to identify himself said water is now flowing back into the pond.
Assistant city manager Troy Brown blamed the problem on a "perfect storm" of unseasonably dry weather, a delay in the filing of water permits and a break in the dam that normally supplies the pond with water during the dry season.
"When you don't have excess water and the dam is broken and the permits are late, this is where we are," Brown said.
During the dry season, Brown said, the course is normally irrigated with water diverted from Altamont Creek and from a reservoir of rainwater retained during the wet season, but the dry conditions left no excess. Under state and federal regulations, the earliest the course can access creek water is April 15 and, the city said, Sycamore Landscaping is required to obtain a series of permits to get that water to the facility -- from the Zone 7 Water Agency, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife¿ Service and the Regional Water Quality Control Board.
Brown said the company was 10 days late in submitting its request for its permits for this year, and installed the dam April 29, two weeks after the normal installation date.
Livermore public works director Dan McIntyre said the city knew about the delay but was assured the problem would be rectified. The city found out about the dead fish on Wednesday.
"I was appalled at something senseless like that," McIntyre said. "Not only that these fish were dying in these large numbers, but that there had been nothing done about it."
The result left Springtown resident Kathleen Schoening mourning the loss of wildlife and the potential for an environmental hazard.
"As a neighborhood we are deeply disappointed (in) the way this has been handled, and the loss of animals is beyond comprehension," Schoening said in an email to the city.
John Krause, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the agency wasn't aware of the dead fish and hadn't received any formal complaints.
"It's really on the golf course and the city to address the issues," Krause said. "There have been no violations."
Brown, the assistant city manager, said Sycamore Landscaping had removed about 20 of the dead fish Wednesday and was able to add a small amount of water to keep more from dying. He said there wasn't much more the city could do besides help mitigate the situation.
"Obviously if things continue to deteriorate, we'll continue to monitor that," Brown said.
"We can work with them ... but it's their facility to run."
Brown said the city agreed to supply the pond with expensive potable water as a stopgap measure until the company could fix the dam. On Friday, the city began releasing the water from a fire hydrant, at an estimated cost of about $3,000 to fill the pond.
"Right now our concern is getting water to that pond," Brown said.
Mike Wallace, an analyst for the Zone 7 Water Agency, said there is a water delivery from Altamont Creek scheduled for Monday. City officials said they hope the pond will be back to full capacity by next week.
McIntyre, the public works director, said the city would work with Sycamore over the next several weeks to find the reasons for the shortage and to review permitting procedures to ensure the same thing doesn't happen again.
Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.