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New issues challenge state PCAs

Aquatic pesticides and nutrient management have risen to the top of the growing list of challenges for California's pest control advisors.

About the time everyone has handles on what things like FIFRA and FQPA are all about, along comes USDA's NRCS' (Natural Resources Conservation Service) nutrient management plan requiring farmers and their consultants to detail nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium application plans for five years in advance.

And now the use of aquatic pesticides may come under something onerously called National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). What it means is that pest control advisors may have to recommend and use aquatic pesticides under the same rules that municipalities operate under to discharge treated effluent into rivers, streams and the ocean.

About 1,000 pest control advisors at the recent annual California Agricultural Production Consultants Association (CAPCA) in Reno, Nev., were engulfed by what are becoming even more regulatory and reporting hurdles as part of their business of helping farmers produce food and fiber.

California has long been the birthplace of controversial agricultural issues, but this time the lightning is coming from elsewhere. The nutrient management scheme was spawned in the Midwest where rainfall has been cited for movement of unwanted nutrients into streams and lakes.

The aquatic pesticide controversy originated in Oregon where an irrigation district did not follow the label for aquatic herbicide use and killed 92,000 Steelhead smolts.

Must document

Charles Lander of the USDA-NRCS said the exhaustive best management plan for nutrient use in place by the federal government is “probably no different” than what California producers and PCA are now doing, but now they'll have to document it. And, that is one big task. The nutrient management rules alone for the use primarily of nitrogen and phosphorous cover seven pages. Developing plans and record keeping could be voluminous.

These plans must include, among other things; site maps or photographs; five years of cropping plans; soil tests and recommended nutrient application rates; plant tissue results; nutrient budgets for N-P-K; realistic yield goals; quantification of all nutrient sources and planned rates, methods and timing of nutrient applications.

Records of all this must be kept by the producer and certified by a nutrient management specialist, for which there is currently no certification procedure. Undoubtedly, state licensed PCAs will be among those specialists.

Allan James, vice president of the American Crop Protection Association, said much of the force behind federally-mandated nutrient management program is coming form the Midwest, more specifically Minnesota, a state with 10,000 lakes and just as many nutrient regulations.

Although the University of Minnesota has reported phosphorus is not a problem in its lakes, the nutrient is virtually banned form use there, he said.

Although California has far less rainfall than Minnesota and other Midwestern states, the growing dairy industry and manure disposal are expected to bring the nutrient management plan to the forefront here sooner than later.

While the plan is federally mandated, state NRCS offices are given the authority to tailor use and monitoring program to fit specific states.

Clean Water Act

The use of aquatic pesticides was thrown into a quandary last spring when the Ninth Court of Appeals ruled that irrigation canals are considered U.S. waterways and as such the use of any pesticides in the those waters were declared toxic chemicals. This hurled the use of aquatic herbicides and other products under the Clean Water Act, according to Dave Boland, regulatory affairs specialist with the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA).

The ruling came in a suit brought against an Oregon irrigation district. Boland said the district incorrectly applied the herbicide, nullifying any chance of getting the decision overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court.

That has left water agencies not only in California, but the West scrambling to try to get relief via the regulatory process.

California's State Water Control Board and its regional arms enforce the federal Clean Water Act in California, but there was no regulatory process in place under the that law for permits to use pesticides in irrigation canals and similar water systems when the court made its ruling.

The court decision affects a wide range of aquatic pest control efforts, including vector control mosquito abatement districts and algae and weed control, according to Boland.

An interim permit process was created this summer to get irrigation districts and others through the 2001 season while water agencies attempted to hammer out a permanent solution.

The one they want is for the Environmental Protection Agency to continue regulating the use of aquatic pesticides and not force irrigation district to get permits under the Clean Water Act's National Pollution Discharge Elimination System. If agriculture and water agencies are forced to operate under that system, it would result in an expensive and time-consuming permit process to win approval for aquatic pesticide use.

Boland said a key EPA administrator has commented that the aquatic pesticide use permit process will continue under the EPA and FIFRA. Boland is encouraged by that.

“However, we also understand that a internal proposal is circulating within EPA to put the permit process under Clean Water Act,” he said. There remains a lot of uncertainty on which permitting process will be required for the use of aquatic pesticides in the future.

Boland is hopeful the issue will be resolved soon.

Gary Silveria of Vacaville, Calif., was selected as CAPCA's member of the year, and Ann Veneman, currently USDA Secretary of Agriculture and former director of California's Department of Food and Agriculture was named recipient of CAPCA's outstanding contribution to agriculture award.

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