February 12, 2019 – For over forty years, 350 miles of the Nevada Irrigation District’s (NID) 450 mile raw water canal system have been chemically managed with herbicides. Copper-based aquatic herbicides are dripped directly into the water throughout the irrigation season (April – October). Roundup is sprayed along the ditch banks and berms throughout the year, and even inside de-watered canals in the winter.
In July 2017, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment placed glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, on California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer. This stirred a statewide public outcry against the widespread use of glyphosate-based herbicides.
In response to local calls to reduce NID’s dependency on glyphosate, NID formed the closed Vegetation Management Working Group. This working group developed a pilot project to field test alternatives to glyphosate/Roundup. This pilot project is a positive step towards a glyphosate-free NID, but unfortunately this group has been flawed since it’s formation. The Vegetation Management Working Group was formed and has since operated without any public input — no public minutes, agenda, or membership. Members of this group were hand-chosen by NID board and staff.
For over 18 months, this secretive pilot project study has been repeatedly criticized by stakeholders and the public. Fortunately, last month this closed working group was quietly disbanded without issuing any report. The pilot project is now open for public feedback at NID’s Maintenance and Resources Management Committee meetings, which is a positive step towards transparency and public involvement.
However, there is still room for improvement on several levels. First, this pilot study is not testing the use of small rubber-tracked excavators for mechanical cleaning, a commonly used alternative. Secondly, NID is not currently working to reduce their dependency on copper-based aquatic herbicides at all. Finally, the only records on when, where, and how much Roundup is applied to canals are handwritten, often illegible, and stored in banker’s boxes inside NID’s headquarters. This antiquated data storage technique lacks transparency and makes it very challenging to hold NID accountable for reducing its glyphosate use over time.
Because Roundup is still legal to use, NID will continue to depend on it unless public pressure continues. Public involvement inspired the formation of the pilot study to find alternatives to Roundup. Continued public involvement is necessary to insure this pilot study is successful, and NID’s dependency on herbicides is reduced.
Today is a new day and change is finally happening with NID. New board members bring new perspective to NID’s leadership. A glyphosate-free NID is finally within reach — it’s time to make it happen. Using Roundup and copper-based aquatic herbicides to manage NID’s raw water conveyance system affects us all here in Nevada County. Herbicides run through private citizen’s back yard ditches into irrigation and livestock drinking water. Our dogs drink it, our children play in it, and the impacts on natural wildlife are immeasurable.
Please join other concerned citizens at 9:00 am on the 4th Tuesday of each month at the public Maintenance and Resources Committee meetings to let NID know our community cares about this issue. These meetings are located in NID’s headquarters, 1036 West Main Street in Grass Valley, and the next meeting is on Tuesday, February 26th.
Other ways to get involved: Check out our research and pictures of local herbicide applications on our website at SafeDitches.com. Also, feel free to join the effort by sending us more information and pictures at SafeDitches@gmail.com.
About the author: Mike Pasner has owned and operated Indian Springs Organic Farm using NID’s irrigation water for thirty-three years in Penn Valley, CA. In order to protect his long standing organic certification, Mike is forced to shut his irrigation water off while copper-based herbicides run through the ditch once a month during the irrigation season.