East Bay Municipal Utilities District is using a LOT of pesticide and its new Master Plan will require that they use a LOT MORE

East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD) is the public utility that supplies our water in the East Bay.  To accomplish that task, EBMUD manages thousands of acres of watershed land.  Like most open space in the Bay Area, the vegetation on EBMUD’s land is a mix of native and non-native species.

EBMUD is revising its Master Plan.  The draft Master Plan makes a commitment to destroy all eucalyptus and Monterey pines in favor of native vegetation.  The draft Master Plan is available HEREEBMUD is accepting written public comments on the draft Master Plan until September 2, 2016 extended to Friday, September 16, 2016.  Comments should be sent to watershedmasterplan@ebmud.com or by mail to Doug Wallace, EBMUD, 375 11th St, Oakland, CA 94607.

There is also a petition to EBMUD that we encourage you to sign:

Sign the petition!
Sign the petition!

One of the reasons why we are concerned about the revised East Bay Watershed Master Plan (EBWMP) is that EBMUD is using a lot of pesticide now.  The draft Master Plan says that “pesticides have been detected in District reservoirs.”  The Master Plan renews its commitment to “replace non-native forests with native species over the long term.”  In this post, we will tell you about the pesticides that EBMUD is using now and explain how destroying trees is likely to increase their pesticide use.

How much pesticide is EBMUD using now?

We have obtained the Pesticide Use Reports (PURs) that EBMUD submitted to Alameda and Contra Costa Agriculture Departments, as required by law.  According to these Pesticide Use Reports, EBMUD applied herbicides 647 times in 2015.  It used 700.91 gallons and 205.75 lbs. of herbicide in 2015.  Of that total herbicide quantity, 255 gallons were glyphosate products. 

That is probably an underestimate of the amount of pesticide EBMUD used because:

  • Many of the PURs did not provide any information about the number of applications. Therefore, the total number of applications is higher than 647.
  • EBMUD (and all other “permittees”) is not required to report to the county pesticide applications done by contractors.  For example, EBMUD’s PURs do not include any rodenticide applications, which EBWMP says it uses.  That is an indication that the reports are not complete.

Is that a lot of pesticide?

Compared to other public land managers, EBMUD is using a LOT of pesticide.  East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) is an appropriate reference point.  EBRPD used 193 gallons of herbicide (glyphosate, Garlon, Oryzalin) in 2015 (and smaller quantities of specialty herbicide for specific projects).  EBRPD has 120,536 acres of propertyEBRPD’s reports include most pesticide applications done by contractors, according to EBPRD.

In contrast, EBMUD used 700.91 gallons and 205.75 lbs of herbicide on only 28,000 acres of property.  In other words, EBMUD pesticide use looks extreme when compared to EBRPD pesticide use.  The fact that EBMUD is responsible for supplying our drinking water (and the park district is not) makes the discrepancy that much more disturbing.  It seems that they should be using significantly less than they are using now.

The loss of shade will put EBMUD onto the pesticide treadmill

Destroying all non-native trees will promote the growth of weeds because shade is the most benign method of suppressing weed growth.  Most herbicide applications are for the purpose of killing weeds.  We have experience in the East Bay with the rampant growth of weeds where trees have been destroyed.  UC Berkeley destroyed all eucalyptus on the south side of Claremont Blvd at signpost 29 about 10 years ago.  They spread several feet of wood chips on the ground where they destroyed the trees, hoping to suppress the growth of weeds.  Signpost 29 is now dominated by weeds, including where wood chips were piled high.  Here are a few pictures that illustrate that weeds quickly colonize the bare ground when trees are destroyed.  Note that the weeds are dead where they have been sprayed with herbicide.  Dead weeds are more flammable than weeds that are still green, so killing them before they are dormant needlessly increases fire hazards.

Logs of trees that were destroyed line the road. Weeds are brown where they have sprayed with herbicide. Site 29, May 2016
Logs of trees that were destroyed line the road. Weeds are brown where they were sprayed with herbicide. Site 29, May 2016
Milk thistle was sprayed with herbicide., Site 29, May 2016
Milk thistle was sprayed with herbicide., Site 29, May 2016
Poison hemlock and thistle are 8 feet tall where not sprayed with herbicide. Site 29, May2016.
Poison hemlock and thistle are 8 feet tall where not sprayed with herbicide. Site 29, May 2016.

Destroying trees will eliminate shade.  The loss of shade will increase the growth of weeds.  More weeds will require more herbicide applications to destroy the weeds.  Using more herbicide will contaminate the watershed and reduce water quality.  Shade is the most benign method of controlling weeds.

How will EBMUD prevent resprouts without using more pesticide?

One of the “Guidelines for Eucalyptus Management” in the Master Plan is:  “Prior to any harvest activities, ensure that adequate stump-sprouting control methods are available to reduce fire hazards and protect water quality.”  This is an artful and fundamentally dishonest dodge.  EBMUD must inform the public of the methods they intend to use.  If herbicides are used for this purpose, EBMUD’s use of pesticides will increase substantially.

Courtesy Hills Conservation Network
Courtesy Hills Conservation Network

The majority of public land managers are now using Garlon to prevent eucalyptus resprouts, i.e., East Bay Regional Park District, City of Oakland, UC Berkeley, and National Park Service.  East Bay Regional Park District said in the Environmental Impact Statement for the FEMA project that it planned to use 2,250 gallons of Garlon for that purpose.

Garlon, with the active ingredient triclopyr, is one of the most toxic herbicides on the market.  The risk assessment of triclopyr that was done for Marin Municipal Water District says that Garlon is acutely toxic to aquatic life and moderately toxic to birds and bees.  It is also known to damage mycorrhizal fungi in the soil, which will retard the growth of anything planted when the trees are destroyed.  The risk assessment done for the California Invasive Plant Council says that Garlon “poses developmental and reproductive risks” to female applicators.

Garlon is sprayed on the tree stump shortly after the tree is destroyed, while the cambium layer is still alive and capable of transporting the herbicide into the roots of the trees.  It prevents resprouts by killing the roots.  This usually has to be done several times.   Garlon is known to be mobile in the soil, which is why it frequently damages non-target trees that are growing closely enough that their root structure intertwines with the roots of eucalyptus.

The only public land manager that has made a commitment to destroy approximately 15,000 eucalyptus without using herbicides is UCSF for its open space on Mount Sutro in San Francisco (to our knowledge).  They have been destroying eucalyptus on their properties for several years.  You can visit their property to see that they are not successfully controlling resprouts of the trees they have destroyed.

Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) recently made a commitment to not using any herbicides on its properties.  It did not make that commitment willingly.  It was forced to make that commitment by its customers, who fought for years to accomplish that ban on herbicide use.  EBMUD should take heed.   The more pesticide EBMUD uses, the more likely the public will protest that use.  I don’t know if MMWD has stopped destroying eucalyptus on its property.  Given that it cannot use pesticides, it would be wise to stop destroying eucalyptus trees.

If EBMUD persists with its plans to destroy all eucalyptus trees on its properties it must inform the public of what method it intends to use to prevent resprouts.  EBMUD must choose between two bad options if it destroys the trees.  If it uses herbicides to prevent resprouts, it will contaminate our water supply.  If it controls resprouts by cutting them down once or twice a year, it will substantially increase its labor costs. The best option is to abandon the foolish plan to destroy all eucalyptus on its property.

What is EBMUD’s job?

The main mission of EBMUD is to supply clean drinking water to communities in the East Bay.  Any other objective—such as conservation of native plants—must be considered secondary to the mission of providing clean water.  If the conservation or restoration of native plants is in conflict with EBMUD’s obligation to provide clean drinking water, it must abandon or revise that commitment so that it is consistent with EBMUD’s main mission.

Please sign the petition and send a written public comment to EBMUD by September 2, 2016 extended to Friday, September 16, 2016.  Thank you for your help.

Sign the petition!
Sign the petition!

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