Statesman Journal (Salem, Or.)  [Printer-friendly version]
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

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

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