Although most of my (always popular) beleaguered-homeowner-under-fire-from-local-brass type of posts have revolved around front yard vegetable growing, green-thumbed HOA rule-busters, and water-conserving landscaping techniques, today I’m zeroing in on birdbaths, innocuous decorative elements that have managed to get several New York City residents in trouble. And by in trouble, I mean that several birdbath-owning New Yorkers have been slapped with hefty fines by the city’s health department for not having not-up-to-snuff water in them.


In an effort to crack down on West Nile virus during mosquito breeding season, the city has taken to issuing summons to property owners in violation of Article 151 of the New York City Health Code (Pest Prevention and Management). Specifically, the issue is over West Nile virus-carrying mosquitoes’ preferred egg-laying spot: murky, bacteria-filled stagnant water. Last year, there were 699 summons issued by the health department for standing water; most of them were for issued to owners of poorly maintained swimming pools and at construction sites. But according to a recent New York Times article, four birdbath owners were also slapped with fines for allegedly providing mosquito larvae the opportune place to thrive.


Naturally, those who received violation notices were both stunned and defensive. Last summer, Joseph Pomares of Long Island City, Queens, received a certified letter alerting him that he had violated Article 151 and would be fined $2,000 (later reduced to $300). “I bought the birdbath brand new. I thought I was doing something good, and I changed the water every other day. I had beautiful birds," Pomares told the Times. Robert G. Materson, a resident of Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, received a similar notice from the health department. It stated that his property was “not kept free of conditions conducive to the breeding of mosquitoes in that murky standing water was observed in a birdbath in the rear yard.” Materson, who fought the $350 fine, claimed that stagnant water was never an issue and that he changed the water every few days: “Between the birds and the evaporation, there’s no water in that sucker after a couple of days. I get four blackbirds splashing out all the water to three-quarters of an inch and then the sparrows show up.”


Also on MNN: 10 funky bird feeders and birdhouses


As pointed out by the Times, although health regulations regarding stagnant water have been around for over a decade in the Big Apple, they were amended by the (overzealously) health-obsessed Bloomberg administration and made more strict just last year: “It explicitly made landlords liable and applied the rule, apparently more broadly, to ‘standing water’ rather than ‘stagnant water’ and further empowered the department not only to prevent ‘the breeding or harborage’ of mosquitoes, but also to prevent ‘conditions conducive’ to their breeding or harborage.”


So how is “stagnant” and “standing” water different in the eyes of the health department? Explains spokeswoman Chanel Carraway: “Standing waters become increasingly stagnant with time as they become more and more concentrated with decomposing organic material, which is food for the mosquito larvae.” She continues: “The health department will issue a notice of violation for standing water in a birdbath only if that water is stagnant, not simply for having water in a birdbath. The decomposed organic matter found in stagnant water is the food for mosquito larvae. The department recommends replacing the water in the birdbath every two to three days to prevent mosquito breeding.”


To me, this all sounds as murky as the offending water itself. No doubt, preventing West Nile is important, but attempting to regulate the water quality of backyard birdbaths seems a bit over the top. It seems to me that there are bigger proverbial fish to fry. What do you think? How do you deal with your birdbath water? How often do you change it?


Via [New York Times]


MNN homepage tease photo: Shutterstock


Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

In NYC, standing water puts bird lovers in hot water
In an effort to more aggressively curb the spread of West Nile virus, the New York City Health Department has fined birdbath-owning residents for being in viola