A sad scene on the Calaveras River

As we watched the rain pelt down on Sunday, I told my wife: “There will be some dead fish tomorrow.”

At 8 a.m. Monday, Delta College biology instructor Paul Ustach, who was riding his bicycle to work, took this disturbing video.


Ustach was crossing the Calaveras when he saw the flopping, flipping, floundering fish. Among the dead and dying were threadfin shad, sunfish and catfish.

Some were writhing around, splashing; others appeared to be lethargically gasping for air near the surface. Bottom-dwelling crayfish wriggled out onto the muddy banks to escape the river.

It happens each year after the first rains of the season wash a summer’s worth of gunk and ooze off our city streets, our homes and yards. The storm drains, of course, do not drain to a treatment plant. They drain to your nearest slough, creek or river. For many of us, that’s the Calaveras.

As Ustach points out, the pollution robs the water of the dissolved oxygen that fish need to “breathe.”

If you’ve ever driven a leaking car, or washed a car in your driveway, or fertilized your lawn — and most of us have done these things – you have contributed to stormwater pollution and, perhaps, the annual Stockton fish kill. Here are some tipson preventing this from happening in the future. And here is a related advocacy group Friends of the Calaveras River blog post, including links to a description of a very similar 2009 event.

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  • Blog Author

    Alex Breitler

    A native of Benicia, he lives in Stockton with his wife, Ann, who forces him to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada or Trinity Alps at every opportunity. He has been writing mostly about natural resources since 2003, first in Redding and now in ... Read Full
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