A January report on surface water testing near Smith River has generated a damning response from the Siskiyou Land Conservancy, but officials at the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board say the report does not indicate a significant human or environmental health issue.
The “Smith River Plain Surface Water and Sediment Monitoring Report” is a 93-page report containing the conclusions of a sampling study performed by the NCRWQCB to assess the condition of surface waters in the agricultural areas of the Smith River Plain in 2013 and 2015.
NCRWQCB Associate Executive Director Josh Curtis explained that the completed report is a tool the Regional Water Board will use to help make decisions in regulating water discharges, which is “anything that can make it into the water.”
The report’s executive summary notes that the monitoring program was implemented to broaden the understanding of conditions and evaluate whether pesticides from nearby lily plantations are impacting the environment.
“The monitoring program analyzed surface water samples collected during both wet and dry seasons focusing on standard water quality measures (temperature, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, and pH), nutrients, various pesticides, dissolved copper and zinc, and toxicity,” the summary states. “Throughout the study period, standard water quality measures were observed to be in compliance with water quality objectives, and within acceptable limits for a healthy aquatic ecosystem.”
However, a release from the Siskiyou Land Conservancy calls the report’s conclusion erroneous and Executive Director Greg King says the board is ignoring its own science to keep from enforcing the law.
“It’s unbelievable that the state sees no problem with these extreme levels of contamination in the waters of one of the most important salmonid streams on the West Coast,” King said.
“A total of 17 detected pesticides were detected in surface waters in the Smith River Plain for samples collected from Aug. 2013 to June, 2015,” the report reads. “The most commonly detected were diuron at all five sites and carbofuran at three of five sites. Pesticide concentrations from the 2013 - 2015 surface water samples from this study met water quality thresholds at three of the five sites.”
“While nutrient analysis documented exceedances of the USEPA criteria in a number of instances, the concentrations were consistent with similar locations and settings, the report’s executive summary reads. “The chemical analysis of surface water samples documented the presence of several legacy and current use pesticides in the tributaries of the Smith River Plain.”
It noted that dissolved copper (a fungicide) was also found in all surface water samples and is known to impact the reproductive functions of a water flea, Ceriodaphnia dubia.
The toxic identification evaluation results identified two factors responsible for the positive toxic test results: low conductivity and the presence of agricultural chemicals, the summary states, adding “The TIEs and associated chemical testing identified that the extremely low hardness of the tributary waters flowing through the Smith River Plain increase the likelihood of a toxic response in the test species utilized for toxicity testing.”
Curtis said the observed toxicity levels were low in several locations.
“There is an issue and it needs to be addressed,” he said, “but it’s not something to be resolved immediately as there’s no threat to public health to environmental health.”
Asked if the results are alarming in an way, Curtis predicted that some in the area will likely see the results as alarming, but maintained that there is not a significant health risk indicated in the findings.
The Siskiyou Land Trust release said the water board staff plans to ask lily growers for voluntary reductions.
“We now know that getting rid of pesticides on the Smith River Plain is needed to stop the decline of salmon and steelhead populations in this fabled river,” said King. “These findings require more than voluntary measures. Once again the Water Board has completely abandoned its mandate.”
Curtis said as of yet, no environmental regulations have been changed as a result of the report, but that Regional Water Board staff are assessing the next steps.
“Yes, something needs to be done,” he said, “but the choices are varied.” He said the NCRWQCB will be given an update on the report at the April 19 meeting in Weed.
The full report can be found online at https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/northcoast/water_issues/programs/agricultural_lands/pdf/180116/180101-FINAL%20SWAMP%20REPORT_Smith%20River.pdf