By Fred Obee
Pesticides currently used on lily fields around Smith River apparently are not contaminating area wells.
That is the result of a well testing program conducted by the Sonoma-based environmental group Smith River Project. The results were released yesterday.
"We're breathing a collective sigh of relief over this news," said Greg King, the executive director of the Smith River Project, in a prepared statement. "This is good news and we're happy to report it."
The tests confirm what lily growers and state officials have contended ever since the Smith River Project charged onto the scene two months ago and accused state officials and lily farmers of putting public health at risk.
Del Norte County Supervisor Chuck Blackburn said he's not surprised by the results and still is worried the group will continue to search for any data to hang charges of environmental degradation on.
"I still think this group has other motives. I think that's the way we have to look at that group," Blackburn said. "I don't think they're going to find anything else."
In all, 17 wells were tested by the Smith River Project. No detectable traces of any currently used pesticides were found, King reported.
The highly publicized drive to test area wells drew more than a hundred protesters to a boat ramp parking lot on Fred Haight Drive last month.
In signs and in speeches, lily farmers and their supporters accused the Smith River Project of trying to twist available data to achieve the group's political goals. They said they believed the water testing was just the first attempt by the group to find ways of pushing lily farmers off their land.
King denied that charge, saying the group was only concerned with the health of Smith River area residents and the health of the Smith River itself.
Lily farmers admitted that well contamination was a problem in the 1980s when farmers used a chemical called 1,2-D. Some well tests around Smith River do still show traces of this chemical, but its concentration has decreased ever since the problem was discovered and steps were taken to curb its use.
King said the Smith River Project now will focus on protecting residents whose wells show traces of 1,2-D and will move ahead with testing of air quality, surface waters and soils.
"We're hoping to find no further contamination so we can move on, and return to protection of upstream salmon spawning habitat, which is the issue that drove creation of the Smith River Project in the first place," King said.
Blackburn said he agrees keeping the Smith River clean is important, but he added people in Del Norte County have been doing that for a long time.
"I've been on that river a good part of my life," Blackburn said. "It's the most pristine river in the United States. I'm not polluting it, and I don't see anyone else polluting it either."