Last week, in the third meeting of the Board of Directors of the San Lorenzo Valley Water District since the “challenging slate” was elected as the board’s majority, the board voted 4-1 for a permanent ban on the use of glyphosate pesticides by the district, keeping a campaign promise that remained controversial right up to the board’s vote.
“The residents in our district have spoken — they do not want glyphosate … and we don’t really know the true effects of glyphosate — how it will affect all the little creatures in sensitive habitat,” said Louis Henry, the newly appointed board chair.
Glyphosate is the key ingredient in Roundup and other products produced by the Monsanto Company. The previous board of directors made the controversial decision in 2017 that the risk of invasive species completely overrunning native species in the sensitive Sand Hills habitat, particularly French and Portuguese Broom and acacia, warranted the limited, carefully prescribed use of the pesticide.
That decision was supported by some local environmental scientists who claimed some endangered species in the sand hills could be lost if the invasive broom and acacia was not treated with glyphosate — in controlled and carefully crafted application. Many district residents strongly disagreed, and maintained the use of glyphosate is a greater risk to people and the water supply than the invasive species in the sand hills, which should be controlled with other options including more labor intensive methods such as people pulling out the broom and acacia by hand.
Rick Rogers, newly appointed District Manager, recommended the board consider a ban on the use of glyphosate until an Integrated Pest Management Plan (IMP) could be developed with the input of pest management experts and the public. The City of Santa Cruz is currently engaged in an IMP for the city, and banned the use of glyphosate until the plan is adopted.
“The process of adopting an Integrated Pest Management plan will give transparency and an opportunity to reach out to different agencies in the watershed to talk about this. A permanent ban on glyphosate is your decision, but I think the process of adopting an IPM plan will give us more information,” Rogers said to the board directors.
Director Margaret Bruce urged the board to consider the long-term cost of trying to eradicate the invasive species without using glyphosate. After public comment and discussion, the board disagreed with Rogers and Director Bruce in favor of a permanent ban, with other board members explaining they would strike the use of glyphosate in any Integrated Pest Management plan that was presented to the district, so there was no need to delay the permanent ban.
In a memo to the board, Rogers provided some detail on the previous use of glyphosate by the district. The previous use only allowed glyphosate to be “‘dubbed on” the cut stalks of broom and acacia by trained applicators, who applied a total of 16 ounces of a non-Monsanto brand of glyphosate- approximately one once per acre- on the 14 acres of extremely sensitive “sand parkland” owned by the district in the Olympia watershed in Felton.
Jennifer Gomez, who serves on the board’s Environmental Committee, stressed the importance of protecting the sand hills habitat.
“I have been characterized as being pro- glyphosate, and I want to clear. I am not pro- glyphosate- what I am really in favor of is protecting the sand hills… This district owns 25 percent of the most unique and threatened habitat in the world- 14 of the 57 acres that are all that is left in the world…I am opposed to this ban because it is not being presented with a feasible, science-based alternative for insuring the protection of the sand hills from invasive species,” Gomez said to the board.
After the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded in 2015 that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic”, the Californian Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment declared glyphosate will be added to the list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer or birth defects in July, 2017. After several legal challenges from Monsanto, this listing was affirmed by the California Supreme Court in August last year, by refusing to hear Monsanto’s appeal of a lower court’s ruling that the listing of glyphosate on the state’s hazardous chemicals list was properly supported by evidence.
This court decision came five days after a California jury found Monsanto liable for $289 million in compensatory and punitive damages resulting from a lawsuit filed by a Benicia school district groundskeeper who claimed the application of Roundup and Ranger Pro caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Testimony in that trial revealed the plaintiff applied the weed killers up to 30 times per year. The Monsanto Company is facing more than 5,000 similar lawsuits across the country, according to Reuters.
“The example the district sets by banning the use of glyphosate will be another brick in the wall that is being built (against the use of glyphosate) that I am happy and proud to be part of,” said Director Bob Fultz before voting in favor of the permanent ban.