Four years ago, a small group of activists brought their concerns about the use of pesticides to the attention of the Board of East Bay Municipal Utilities Department (EBMUD), the supplier of our water in the East Bay.
In particular, we showed EBMUD officials photos of inappropriate applications of herbicide, specifically RoundUp (glyphosate). The photos showed that District employees were spraying RoundUp in residential neighborhoods without posting pesticide application notices. They weren’t wearing protective gear. They were spraying RoundUp on bare ground, which is not how RoundUp should be applied because it is not a pre-emergent that is effective on seeds or roots. It must be sprayed on green vegetation during the growing season. In one case, the District employee was spraying RoundUp from an ordinary garden hose, which means far more herbicide was being applied than necessary, even if anything were growing there. In other words, the manner in which RoundUp was being applied suggested that District employees didn’t understand what they were doing.
EBMUD officials were responsive to our report. They hired a Pesticide Control Advisor as a consultant to evaluate their program who identified several significant deficiencies in the District’s IPM program. The District responded by making many improvements in their use of pesticides, such as:
- There is now a comprehensive, annual training program for all employees who apply pesticides.
- There are now more accurate and complete records of EBMUD’s pesticide use.
- The PCA consultant was retained on a contractual basis to monitor some pesticide applications for compliance with product labels and District policies.
- An annual report of the District’s pesticide use, including quantities and products, is presented to the Board at an annual meeting and posted to the District’s website. (1)
- The District’s IPM Program guidelines were updated and posted to the website in April 2021. (2)
- The revised guidelines are more comprehensive and detailed. Requirements for posting notices of pesticide applications are clearer. (2)
Some of these improvements have probably contributed to the decrease in pesticide use in the past five years from over 600 gallons per year to over 400 gallons per year. Most pesticide used by EBMUD is herbicide and most herbicide used by EBMUD is glyphosate products.
EBMUD is still using a lot of herbicide, but their practices are safer for their employees and the public. Their pesticide applications are more visible to the public and the public now has access to information about their pesticide applications.
EBMUD uses pesticides primarily to maintain their facilities. Little pesticide is used on EBMUD’s watershed property. EBMUD does not use herbicide to prevent eucalyptus and bay laurel resprouts when those tree species are destroyed. Most trees destroyed by EBMUD are intended to reduce fire hazards and many of the tree removals are requested by Cal Fire.
It pays for the public to pay attention to what is happening on our public lands and to speak up if you see something that doesn’t make sense to you. There are usually mechanisms for figuring out what is happening, asking questions, and making your concerns known.
Changing public policy isn’t easy, but it can be done. It’s often frustratingly slow and it takes persistence. Personally, I have found it more effective to be consistently polite and as patient as needed to get your message through. In the case of EBMUD’s pesticide use practices, there is more they can do to reduce their use of pesticides, so the public should continue to pay attention because the quality of our water is extremely important to our health.