SAN JOSE -- California's drought is turning the oasis that was Overfelt Gardens into cracked clay and creating a crisis for abandoned pet turtles in the park's ponds. But because they aren't native to California, the turtles aren't getting any love from officials who decide where water goes and where it doesn't.
"The turtles are not going to survive," said Tiffany Namwong, an animal lover and recent visitor to the 33-acre arboretum in the east side. "If I'm a turtle, how am I going to get out of there and cross the street? I'd get run over!"
California's drought has reached the point where everyone involved in the use and flow of water must make hard decisions. The four man-made ponds at Overfelt Gardens did not make the cut by the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which manages the water at the park. As with other ponds and some creeks, the district is diverting the water for use on higher priorities, including treatment plants and drinking water.
"Water for a decorative pond is really low on the priority list in a year like this," said water district spokesman Marty Grimes.
If there is a silver lining in cases like this, he said, it's the opportunity to let drought conditions eliminate aggressive, non-native species and to allow the native species to come back.
The turtles at Overfelt are red-eared sliders from the southern United States that are commonly sold as pets in California. Once they outgrow the cute phase, they are frequently abandoned in public waterways where they prey on the eggs and babies of the California native Western pond turtle.
"You'll find these guys in lakes and ponds and streams everywhere," said Gilbert Castro, president of the Silicon Valley chapter of the California Turtle and Tortoise Club. "There isn't a city or county in California that doesn't have this problem."
Castro said the non-native turtles at Overfelt are a hardy breed. A good number could survive a trek across streets to settle in nearby creeks, but then they would still prey on native species. Still, he said, his group is authorized by the state to rescue even non-native species for adoption and would do so if asked.
Mike Will, a city parks manager, said pet owners have been abandoning exotic, non-native pets like red-eared slider turtles, gold fish and Japanese koi in city ponds for decades. He said he once found a piranha -- a native Amazon fish known for attacking and devouring large animals in packs -- at Kelley Park.
"It's difficult," he said. "It's not that we want these critters to die, but they are non-native and they do push out the native species."
Still, Will said, the city is speaking with water district and state officials on alternatives to letting the non-native turtles fend for themselves when the last pond at Overfelt goes dry, including a possible rescue and adoption.
Namwong said she would approve of a rescue and said she has volunteered to design new a sign for the park that would say, "No Turtle Dumping!"
Contact Joe Rodriguez at 408-920-5767. Follow him at Twitter.com/joerodmercury.