By Greg King, Siskiyou Land Conservancy
After many years the California North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has finally released a long awaited report that provides new and devastating data from the Smith River estuary: From 2013-15 state scientists found 17 highly toxic pesticides in surface waters of the lower Smith River. They also found at least ten instances of that water being so toxic that it destroyed the invertebrates that make up the basis of the salmonid food chain (aka “acute and chronic reproductive toxicity”).
Perhaps more devastating, though, is the state’s response to the contaminated waters of California’s healthiest and arguably most important remaining wild fishery: Water Board officials say that the water’s toxicity is not the result of the 17 pesticides (most of which are used on surrounding bottom lands to grow Easter lily bulbs and are highly toxic to fish), but stem from the water’s “lack of hardness.”
In other words, the state Water Board is currently in the process of abandoning the vital Smith River to the whims of agriculture, where lily farmers annually apply 300,000 pounds of pesticides on bottomlands that surround the Smith River estuary — some of the heaviest concentrations of pesticide applications in California. State officials are now even saying that they may not get around to developing a “discharge permit” for the lily growers, without which the farmers are technically operating illegally (as they have since 2003). Rather, the risk of further pesticide destruction of threatened and endangered estuary wildlife — home to coho and Chinook salmon, steelhead, and the world’s northernmost population of Endangered tidewater goby — will be addressed via the lily growers’ voluntary measures and “best management practices.”
Since its founding in 2004, the Siskiyou Land Conservancy has worked to reduce and eliminate pesticide contamination in the Smith River estuary, the most vulnerable reach of a watershed that is otherwise one of the wildest, healthiest, and most beautiful rivers in the world. Never has there been a more egregious, and Orwellian, abrogation by the state of its duty to protect wildlife in this isolated corner of California. The pesticides are also impacting the health of 2,000 residents in the town of Smith River, according to the Smith River Community Health Assessment conducted by SLC in 2016
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