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June 1, 2023

Officials ID source of recent stink in South County

WATSONVILLE—Residents who reported a strong odor in parts of Watsonville recently helped county officials create an “odor map” and track down the source of the smell, Santa Cruz County spokesman Jason Hoppin said.

According to Hoppin, the odor that some likened to sewage and others to rotting corpses is coming from College Lake, a small seasonal body of water not far from the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds.

That lake, drained every year to make way for farming, was inundated in October by a heavy unexpected rainstorm that mixed with organic material from the agricultural uses.

Then, with no more rain to refresh the water that was already there—and unseasonably warm temperatures in November—the water stagnated, creating bacteria that release sulfides and volatile organic acids, both of which can be highly odoriferous, Hoppin said.

Solar radiation during the day helps dissipate the smell, but during the night the scent wafts out into low-lying areas of Watsonville and into the homes of unlucky residents, he said.

To reduce the smell, county officials could either drain the water—which would then go into the Pajaro River—or aerate the lake.

Currently, however, officials are holding out hope—and their noses in the meantime—as they wait to see whether an expected rainfall next week takes care of the stink.


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