While most people slumber during early summer mornings, one man in southern El Paso County chugs along the streets of Fountain on a mission to ward off thousands of tiny nuisances.
Jim Watson is the parks superintendent in the town of more than 25,000 people. And after an economic tumble in 2008, he has become a one-man brigade armed with a truck, trailer, fogger and the will to keep mosquitos in submission. Watson heads to work at 3 a.m. Monday through Thursday to perform what he calls a needed task in an area where multiple ditches and Jimmy Camp and Fountain creeks provide plenty of breeding ground for the pests.
"It's extremely important to citizens here," Watson said, noting that Fountain began the fogging initiative in the late 1980s. "It's a program they've come to rely on and it's something the city wants to do for them."
While eliminating mosquitoes as nuisances is important, According to Watson, the goal is to diminish the instances of West Nile Virus. The disease can cause inflammation of the brain and even death.
Fountain hasn't had a case since 2007, but Colorado had 40 West Nile deaths and more than 2,000 cases of the disease in the last 10 years. Prior to that, there were almost 3,000 cases in the state in 2003 when 66 people died as a result, according to statistics at colorado.gov.
After spiking again with 578 cases and seven deaths in 2007, the numbers tapered off then rose again last year with seven more fatalities and 320 cases in Colorado. According to El Paso County Public Health, there were 131 cases in the county from 2003 to the end of 2013. Two cases have been discovered this year, one each in Pueblo and Saguache counties.
Fountain residents typically alert city officials when they see an overabundance of mosquitoes roaming near their homes. Watson said he will then search the area looking for signs of larva.
The city uses a larvacide in April and May to quell the mosquitoes before they take flight. Intense fogging 15 to 30 feet off the ground then commences all summer. A link to a map and schedule for Watson's work can be found on the Fountain city website's home page under "adult mosquito fogging."
Watson said the frequency of the fogging missions can change yearly depending on how wet the season gets. He said a few years ago, the city only needed to spread the water-based pesticide Aqua Reslin a couple of times all summer.
"We're one of those areas that is either really dry or we're really wet," Watson said, noting that he probably won't get much rest in 2014. "Right now that we're running into some rain, we're going to have some problems."
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Permethrin is the active ingredient in Aqua Reslin and is widely used for mosquito control. The EPA says risks to humans exposed to the chemical are "below the agency's level of concern."
Despite that fact, people can become leery when pesticides are used near their homes. When asked if residents near Fountain's open spaces complain about pesticides, the parks superintendent said the feedback has been just the opposite.
"If they don't hear the fogger then they get upset," Watson said.