High court weeds out pesticides



For years, irrigation districts and golf course operators have used pesticides in irrigation canals to battle pesky weeds that choke the flow of water. But a few years ago, an aquatic herbicide in southern Oregon didn't kill just plants. More than 90,000 young steelhead trout died in 1996 when the chemical acrolein leaked from an irrigation ditch into a nearby creek. Outraged, two environmental groups sued the irrigation district, saying chemicals shouldn't be used in ditches without federal permission.

On March 12, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the groups. The court said that under the Clean Water Act, aquatic pesticides can't be used in public waterways without a federal permit.

"It has potentially huge consequences," says Charlie Tebbutt, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, who represented the two environmental groups in the lawsuit. The permitting process is sometimes long and expensive. That prospect, says Tebbutt, may force irrigation districts to consider other, nonchemical treatments for aquatic vegetation.

Some irrigation districts say they will be forced to raise rates to pay for nonchemical treatments - bad news for Northwest farmers who are already facing tough times.


Copyright © 2001 HCN and Mike Stark