Statesman Journal (Salem, Or.), February 15, 2006


More are joining a Marion County prevention program

[Rachel's introduction: Oregon farmers have joined an early warning network to discover pesticide contamination as early as possible, aiming to minimize harm to the Pudding River and its tributaries.]

By Beth Casper, Statesman Journal

Erika Toler's horses and sheep quench their thirst at a small, unnamed creek on her property east of Salem.

Naturally, she wants the water as clean as possible.

But when it rains, brown water pours from nearby fields, down the road and through a clay pipe to the small waterways' headwaters.

"I am worried about pesticides flowing over," said the Marion County resident. "We want to capture the water and filter it before it gets down to the livestock."

Her concerns are shared by Scott Eden, a resource conservationist with the Marion Soil and Water Conservation District.

Eden is part of a new pilot project to reduce the number and concentrations of pesticides in the Pudding River basin. Toler's creek runs into Beaver Creek, which eventually leads to the Pudding River.

Through the Pudding River Pesticide Stewardship Network, Eden works with farmers and ranchers to explain which pesticides are detected in the area's waterways, where they might be coming from and what can be done about them.

"Basically, the detections are higher than we would want," Eden said. "We are trying to investigate where they might have been coming from. With help from growers, we can find out if it is in the application of pesticides or in some other process."

Eden said the program will go nowhere without help from the farmers, who own the land and are personally invested in the area.

"The farmers would like to reduce any effects they may be having, but they are busy," he said.

For farmers and ranchers, getting involved with the network provides another benefit: keeping precious soils on their property.

"The science says if you can keep the soil from leaving the property, you keep pesticides out of the water," said Dennis Roth of Wilco Farms, a farmers cooperative.

Farmers and ranchers are beginning to apply for grants and technical assistance to identify places to reduce soil erosion.

One of the ways is by planting grasses, which creates root systems that hold soil in place.

"We like to save our soil because it's so costly," said Jeff Butsch, a farmer in the area. "We planted perennial grass last fall, and it is just getting established right now. But the idea is to make the rainwater go into the soil and not run off."

The program in the Pudding basin is based on similar voluntary activities in Hood River and The Dalles.

In 1999, Hood River residents asked state officials whether pesticides used in area orchards were affecting nearby waterways. Tests showed an association between the times pesticides were sprayed and detections of the same pesticides in the creeks, said Fenix Grange, a toxics coordinator for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

Growers changed some of their practices, including some things as seemingly benign as changing the size of pesticide droplets sprayed on fruit trees.

"We've had consistent and remarkable improvements in water quality up there," Grange said.

The frequency of detection of a toxic insecticide in area creeks fell by two-thirds between 2001 and 2004, partly because of the work done by farmers in the program, Grange said.

The Pudding River Pesticide Stewardship Network started as a pilot project last year to see whether what worked in orchard country would work in mixed-use agricultural areas.

The Pudding River area has a mix of orchards, row crops and cane berries. It also has high concentrations of many pesticides.

Water sampling done between 1991 and 1995 by the U.S. Geological Survey showed 43 pesticides in Zollner Creek, one of the creeks that flows into the Pudding River.

"That is quite high compared to even other agricultural sites around the country," said Hank Johnson, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Portland.

Results won't be detectable for a few years, experts say, but related projects already are making a dent in pesticide reductions.

Last week, farmers in the Pudding River watershed were asked to drop off banned and obsolete pesticides at a free collection in Mount Angel.

Stored pesticides can leak and find their way into streams.

More than 16,000 pounds of obsolete and banned pesticides was collected, including 100 pounds of DDT, which the U.S. government banned in the 1970s.

"Keeping pesticides out of streams is the ultimate goal," said Dennis Roth, a plant manager for Wilco Farms. "Farmers who have some of the old stuff -- because they bought a farm and it's not labeled -- this gave them an avenue to get rid of it."

And in the end, Eden said, everyone benefits from the reduction of pesticides in waterways -- from water users and landowners downstream to fish. or (503) 589-6994

Copyright 2006