Firm uses plane to sniff out mosquito-ridden pools

On a dazzlingly clear day last week under the high-noon sun, Bob Franklin and Dennis Vied taxied their Cessna Turbo 206 down the runway at Livermore Municipal Airport, east of Oakland, Calif., and took to the sky in search of a public-health menace.

On a dazzlingly clear day last week under the high-noon sun, Bob Franklin and Dennis Vied taxied their Cessna Turbo 206 down the runway at Livermore Municipal Airport, east of Oakland, Calif., and took to the sky in search of a public-health menace.

They were hunting for mosquitoes – or more specifically, fetid swimming pools that harbor the insects and potentially the West Nile virus they can carry.

As the foreclosure crisis has escalated, so has the number of abandoned pools. A million mosquitoes can breed in a single stagnant pool. Now finding and fixing them has taken on a new level of urgency.

Franklin’s company, Aerial Services of Livermore, is a frontline warrior in locating the backyard breeding sites. Last year, mosquito districts hired it to fly over almost every county in California. It covered about one-third of the state’s urban area and “harvested” 27,000 algae-ridden pools, providing the districts with photographs, maps, street addresses, latitude/longitude and parcel data, including ownership.

“We find lots of mosquito sources at foreclosed homes,” said John Rusmisel, district manager for the Alameda County, Calif. Mosquito Abatement District. “It’s an ongoing and big problem.”

He hired Aerial Surveys to do surveillance over 75 square miles in a region east of Oakland last week at a cost of $8,000 to $10,000. “Google Earth is great, but if you want to know real-time, an airplane is best,” Rusmisel said.

Once problem pools are identified, the mosquito districts can swoop in on the ground, armed with mosquito fish or chemicals to zap the insects. “Obviously, with a foreclosed home, there is no one there,” Rusmisel said. “We have authorization to do an inspection and treatment.”

Foreclosures and the economic downturn have ramped up the mosquito districts’ work. In Contra Costa County, Calif., for instance, of 25,000 homes that were in the foreclosure process in 2008, more than 2,000 had swimming pools, according to the Contra Costa Mosquito & Vector Control District.

Even occupied properties can have algae-ridden pools, something that’s happening more as unemployment rises.