To keep Foster City lagoon water quality at acceptable levels for the public and prevent potential health hazards elsewhere, the City Council is exploring more aggressive measures to control goose waste throughout the city, including culling the growing population.
“If we don’t do anything, our situation with the geese is not going to stay stagnant. It’s going to get worse, much worse,” Mayor Sanjay Gehani said.
Wild Canada geese spend time in Foster City’s waters year-round and create issues around public health, lagoon water quality and decreased ability to use parks. The city has expressed concern about waste in open space areas and long-term lagoon water quality, with potential for human health hazards. Summer 2021 geese population estimates are around 323, double the 2020 count. The primary nesting site for geese in Foster City is Bair Island.
To address the geese problem, the council passed several initiatives at its Sept. 20 meeting. Initiatives include a public outreach campaign to increase pet waste clean-up, sample monitoring until March 2022 of the lagoon, more aggressive control of the geese populations, and updating the city’s lagoon management plan to allow for chemical and aeration treatments.
Vice Mayor Richa Awasthi suggested being more aggressive, including transporting the geese elsewhere or culling the population. She also highlighted regional collaboration, which she helped set up, with the county and other neighboring cities to produce regional efforts.
“I would be supportive of that, or at least getting started on that plan,” Awasthi said. “We have heard multiple times that we have tried all that we could, and now we have to be a little more aggressive.”
Councilmember Sam Hindi agreed with Awasthi’s suggestion for a regional approach but also wanted to apply for a depredation permit to reduce the geese population, something he felt was past due. Such a permit allows the city to capture or kill birds to reduce their damage and protect human health.
“Just for those that might question why, it is because it has become a health hazard for humans. With that in mind, you have to take those types of actions,” Hindi said.
He noted that unless the city changed course, nothing would be accomplished.
“We have to change our approach, otherwise as evident, everything that we have been trying for decades has not worked. Not only has it not worked, but the problem has gotten worse and worse,” Hindi said.
Concerns about potentially polluted beaches near Erckenbrack Park, Gull Park and Marlin Park prompted Foster City to hire Environmental and Public Health Engineering to investigate the source of the high bacteria rates in the lagoon. The contractor conducted a six-month study on causes and ways to counteracting options. In August, the City Council received a water quality update for Gull and Marlin Beach, which found they are safe and open for swimming, according to a staff report. As part of the study, a final sample was taken Aug. 26, with results delivered to the council Sept. 20. It showed no human sources of bacteria were found, with some low concentrations of dog waste in three of 12 samples. The staff report said that the primary source of bacteria was wildlife like geese and seagulls, with geese waste detected in four out of 12 samples. A staff report said water samples taken throughout the lagoon were comparable to water quality found in the San Francisco Bay, with the city saying water quality will not pose a health risk.
Bonnie de Berry, a managing scientist with Environmental and Public Health Engineering, said managing the goose population would help Foster City’s water quality situation.
“It is likely that getting the goose population under control will help reduce your bacteria concentrations in the lagoon,” De Berry said.
The city would need to get a depredation permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other government agencies to reduce the population. City staff will bring back a more detailed plan and options to the council.
Councilmember Jon Froomin echoed council sentiment that the growing geese population and subsequent complications were a public health issue.
“Our kids are trudging through it in parks and on grasses. They can’t use the parks the way they were intended to be used with the geese sharing the space. We need to do a much more significant job of moving the geese to an acceptable location,” Froomin said.
Councilmember Patrick Sullivan suggested neutering through birth control for geese. However, city staff noted previous efforts of birth control pills through feeding were unsuccessful.
“We’re trying to mitigate the situation, so whatever we are going to try and do to mitigate the situation, we’re going to have to do a combination of something,” Sullivan said. “There is no silver bullet.”
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