So long, suckers!

Having recently considered some of OC's dirtiest coastal waters, let's turn our attention to freshwater– specifically the Santa Ana River, where even the good news is sometimes bad news.

Take this nugget of good-ish sounding news about how things have changed since the '80's found in this morning's Reg story on the United States Geological Survey's (USGS) National Water Quality Assessment annual survey of the Santa Ana River:

Robert Fisher, a USGS biologist who sampled the river in the late 1980s, said he found fish loaded with external parasites. That was when the river was contaminated with significant amounts of dairy waste, with relatively less treated sewage flowing through.

Now a variety of sewage-treatment plants pump their effluent into the river. And external parasites, Fisher said, are rarely found on the fish that are caught.

Encouraging, no? No, not really.

"One of the ideas was that there are enough antibiotics in the system now that they're actually killing the external parasites," Fisher said.

And while that might sound like good news for the fish, many scientists worry about other, potentially harmful effects of such compounds on aquatic life-forms.

One fish that hasn't found with either parasites or any antibiotic problems is the Santa Ana sucker, "possibly the only native fish" in the OC stretch of the river. Again, encouraging, no? No, not at all. The reason no problem has been found in Santa Ana suckers is that no Santa Ana suckers have been found.

Every species caught was a non-native.

Only one sucker, in fact, has turned up in seven years of surveys.

Santa Ana suckers can, however, be found in the Riverside County stretch of the river. (Feel free to use the imagery of Santa Ana suckers in Riverside to make up your own jokes about real estate prices in OC.) In Riverside, beyond the Prado Dam, the sections of the Santa Ana remain "in a natural state". In OC, on the other hand, "An estimated 90 percent of the water flowing down the river is highly treated sewage – clear and almost entirely bereft of contamination, but treated sewage nevertheless."

As for whether the sucker can make a comeback in OC, we'll just have to wait for the results of future National Water Quality Assessment surveys– assuming there are any.

...[D]espite a years-long track record, congressional funding could run dry: There might be only one more season of intensive federally funded sampling for this team of U.S. Geological Survey scientists.

I suppose there are those who believe that neither the Bush administration nor the Republican-led Congress would ever let such a valuable source of information about the state of the nation's waterways expire. Of course, if there are such people around, that means there are suckers in OC. And once again, that's not really good news.


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