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Near Tulare Lake, state disaster relief includes millions for mosquito abatement

A haze hangs over Tulare Lake in Kings County.
Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado
A haze hangs over Tulare Lake in Kings County.

One mosquito abatement district in Tulare County has reportedly purchased its first-ever drone, amphibious vehicle and airboat.

FRESNO, Calif. — If you’ve been anywhere near Kings or Tulare counties recently, you’ve probably noticed the proliferation of mosquitoes.

“In a normal year we’re getting anywhere from 25 to 75 mosquitoes in a single trap,” said Jacob Davis, operations director for the Tulare Mosquito Abatement District. “This year, we’re pulling mosquitoes in the 2,000 [to] 3,000 range some nights.”

The culprit: standing water remaining after the region’s historically wet winter.

Not surprisingly, one big problem area is Tulare Lake — particularly the southeast corner in Tulare County, where the water isn’t contained by any levees and has instead seeped into shallow fields of tangled plants.

“When it starts going out into the fields and all this tall grass, that’s where the mosquito population is,” Davis said. “The fish that are in there can’t get to the mosquito larvae and that’s where the mosquitoes just thrive.”

In response, big bucks are being spent on abatement, including from the state.

A representative of the California Office of Emergency Services confirmed that $6.3 million in disaster relief have been spent on aerial spraying and other mosquito abatement strategies in Kings and Tulare counties.

The California Department of Public Health has also gotten involved.

The agency’s “Vector Borne Disease Surveillance (VBDS) team continues to work with the Tulare Mosquito Abatement District (MAD) to provide technical assistance, as needed, and monitor mosquito abundance levels and mosquito-borne virus activity,” a representative wrote in an email statement.

Davis’s district has also beefed up its arsenal with new vehicles including a drone, an amphibious vehicle, and even an airboat.

“That is something that mosquito abatements don’t necessarily need or should even have…but that’s the only way for us to get around out there,” Davis said. “This is unprecedented.”

The goal is to mitigate the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses.

West Nile virus, an untreatable virus that in rare cases can cause inflammation of the brain or spinal cord, has been reported in humans in Kern, Tulare and Merced counties, and in mosquitoes in Kings, Fresno, and Madera counties.

St. Louis encephalitis virus, which is more rare but can cause similar symptoms to West Nile virus, has been detected in one human in Kern County, and in mosquitoes in Kings, Tulare, Fresno and Madera counties.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.