Hundreds of dead fish found in Goodyear canal

GOODYEAR, AZ - There's something "fishy" going on in a Goodyear neighborhood, and residents say they're sick of it.

Sick of the smell and stench caused by hundreds of dead fish, some still dying in a Roosevelt irrigation district canal that runs through their backyard. 

Gary Bruyns, who lives in the Rio Paseo neighborhood off I-10 and Estrella Parkway, said it happens once or twice a year, when officials drain the canal for repair and maintenance work.

Hundreds of fish ended up dying along parts of the 80-mile long canal system, run by the Roosevelt Irrigation district. 

"It smells like a fish market down there. We rescued as many as we could. Put them in a pond nearby, and now Liberty Wildlife is out here taking fish to feed wildlife," said Bruyns.

Several volunteers with Liberty Wildlife, a rescue and rehab agency, were armed with nets trying to catch as many catfish as they could. 

"We will freeze them, and they will become food for the eagles. It's better than them just dying out here and rotting," said Moe Slaughter with the rescue group. 

Steve Hansen said he was shocked when he stumbled upon the sight in the canal as he went out to take nature photos this week. It was the last thing he expected to see.

"It was crazy. I couldn't believe there was that many fish fighting for air. How do you describe death? It's just death..it's sad," said Hansen. 

Concerned residents questioned why the irrigation district could not herd the fish to a safer location before starting the project. Some residents pointed out companies like the Salt River Project, who were able to perform similar maintenance projects while still saving many of the fish.

We took that question to Donovan Neese, Superintendent of the Roosevelt Irrigation District.

He explained that they had attempted to herd the fish in the past, but it had not worked.

"I know SRP has got a similar system, but they usually herd them into another canal. Since this is our only canal that wouldn't work for us," said Neese.

He says they re-stock the canal with 70,000 fish every year.

"They keep the moss, the weeds, and algae down. We used to use chemicals, but the fish do a much better job and are significantly cheaper for the district," said Neese. 

Neese said the canal system delivers 130,000 acre-feet of water to local farmers every year. The maintenance work they did lasted two weeks and was necessary to keep the canal walls sturdy, seal the cracks that could damage access roads if not repaired and also cause leaks.

He added that most of the fish typically herded themselves away during the process, and acknowledged there would be some casualties.

"This is the most environmentally friendly way that we can keep the bugs and the plants down. We are doing the best that we can do to maintain our canal system, and also keep the plants and bugs down," said Neese.

Concerned residents; however, felt there were too many casualties associated with the project.

"They have no regard for killing them. It's just sad," said Slaughter.

"To me, it just seems wasteful and shameful. Apparently, they stock the fish in the canals, and then once a year drain them and kill them. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense," said Bruyns.

ABC15 observed several people fishing in the canal for food.

District officials said they would not recommend eating the fish from the canal.  

They also advised it was dangerous to be around the canal area, and pointed out they had signs stating "no trespassing", and warning people not to fish in the canal.

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