Water Worries: Residents Concerned About Mosquitoes in DC Area

What to Know

  • NPS takes care of almost all the public water features in DC, typically treating reflecting pools with chlorinated or oxygenated water.
  • Fountains rely on moving water to keep bugs at bay, and they can break.
  • In Montgomery Co., complaints about mosquitoes and standing water have already jumped more than 270 percent so far this year.

With Zika in the headlines this summer, many people are worried about standing water that could contribute to mosquito-borne illnesses in the D.C. area. The News4 I-Team has received a number of calls and emails from viewers, and so have area health departments.

Through a public records request, the I-Team found D.C. has received dozens of mosquito complaints about tires, abandoned swimming pools and construction sites. That’s prompted health officials to issue citations and spread larvicide in particularly bad cases. In Montgomery County, complaints about mosquitoes and standing water have already jumped more than 270 percent so far this year compared to all of last year.

In Fairfax County, officials say they've gone into overdrive trying to help folks understand where mosquitoes breed.

"If somebody calls in and they're having problems with mosquitoes around their yard, we can actually go out and help them look around their yard and try to provide some guidance," said Joshua Smith with the county’s Disease Carrying Insects Program.

It takes about a week for larvae to develop into the zinging pests we so despise, Smith said.

“If you can empty out water or tip and toss water on a weekly basis that should help control mosquitoes around your home," said Smith.

And Smith reminds residents not to overlook places mosquitoes love to breed, like the tray under a flowerpot, in children's toys or on top of tarps covering wood piles.

"One of the more common ones that we can find in people's yards are the corrugated downspout extensions," Smith said. "If they're not draining properly, they can actually hold quite a bit of water and be a good source of mosquitoes,” Smith said.

Mike Litterst says the National Park Service takes care of almost all the public water features in D.C. Reflecting pools, like the one near the Lincoln Memorial, are typically treated with chlorinated or oxygenated water. But Litterst says fountains are not, relying instead on moving water to keep the bugs at bay. And when they break, things can get pretty gross, which happened at Benjamin Banneker Park at the south end of L’Enfant Plaza in southwest D.C.

"The call from your viewer prompted us to come out and take a look," said Litterst.

The I-Team checked out the fountain at Banneker after getting an email from a concerned federal employee who works nearby and found a stagnant pool of green gunk, full of debris and dead bugs.

Mosquito larvae found in a fountain at Benjamin Banneker Park.

“It's been like that for five months," one lunchtime walker, Roger Faranno, said.

Another, Amit Vaddadi, said, "It's just consistently full of algae."

"That is probably a significant breeding ground there," Joe Rollins told the I-Team on his lunch break.

Mosquito larvae were visible swimming around in the slimy mess.

"The health and safety of our visitors is a priority,” said Litterst.

As soon as the I-Team contacted the National Park Service, it jumped into action. Litterst sent a crew out less than 24 hours after calling and found the fountain's motor kept overheating, stopping the water flow and allowing the algae to grow.

"Ultimately your call got us to come in, drain it, get the part ordered and get it cleaned up," said Litterst.

Story reported by Tisha Thompson, produced by Rick Yarborough, shot by Lance Ing and edited by Steve Jones.

The National Park Service said it really does want you to let them know when something doesn't look right at one of their properties. You can tweet them at @NationalMallNPS or call 202-426-6841.

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