San Joaquin River DOTMDL -- Technical Working Group

Group sues over pesticides in canals

San Joaquin Record - July 15, 2004
By Audrey Cooper

A Stockton-based environmental group has sued a state agency in charge of controlling water pollution, claiming that the agency has failed to follow its own guidelines when it passed rules that control how pesticides can be sprayed into water-supply canals.

Water agencies around the state use a variety of chemicals to control plants such as algae and cattails that can sprout in canals, making it difficult to chute water to farm sprinklers or drinking-water treatment plants.

At times, aquatic plants can clog canals or pipes.

The lawsuit filed by DeltaKeeper in Sacramento County Superior Court says the State Water Resources Control Board ignored its own guidelines when it agreed to a blanket set of rules for water agencies that use such aquatic pesticides and herbicides.

Those chemicals, which can harm fish or other wildlife, include acrolein, fluoridone, copper-based compounds and diquat.

Also named in the lawsuit is the state Department of Water Resources, the Department of Food and Agriculture and several smaller water agencies such as the South San Joaquin Irrigation District.

Those agencies frequently use such chemicals to keep canals clear of plants.

The lawsuit argues that the water board agreed to lax monitoring requirements that could allow water agencies to fill canals with toxic chemicals. Although most of these sorts of canals are privately owned, some double as natural waterways.

Other places that get treated for algae and other aquatic weeds include water-supply reservoirs.

Those canal and reservoirs frequently are used for swimming and fishing, DeltaKeeper chief Bill Jennings said.

He said state regulators have gutted monitoring requirements designed to assure safe uses of chemicals, leaving water agencies chiefly in charge of policing their own chemical use.

"Essentially, now it's like the IRS required every taxpayer to do a self audit every 10 years. What do you think the result of that would be?" Jennings said.

"These canals can be toxic killing zones not safe for aquatic life. We understand that sometimes chemicals are needed, but we just want to see that using chemicals is done properly and that there is adequate monitoring in place to evaluate any adverse effects."

Liz Kanter, a spokeswoman for the state water board, said her agency was comfortable with the regulations.

Studies show there is little concern about the pesticides and herbicides causing problems in the canals, she said.

The water board spent $2 million to study whether the chemicals could be used safely without harming waterways, she said.

"It appears to us that this lawsuit is an effort to prohibit use of all aquatic pesticides. That wasn't warranted, according to studies of water-quality impacts," Kanter said.

David Bolland, a regulatory-affairs specialist for the Association of California Water Agencies, agreed.

He said the monitoring requirements detailed by the state water board are sufficient.

California officials also have done more than other states to regulate this sort of herbicide application, Bolland said.

In a briefing paper dated June 9, G. Fred Lee, a Ph.D. scientist who regularly studies water pollution, said the state water board was letting water agencies escape needed monitoring and reporting.

Lee wrote that the board's rules on spraying aquatic pesticides are more intended to protect farm interests than to protect the public. #

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