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Water treatment efforts take shape

by EVIE SEABERG
Staff Writer | August 11, 2023 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — As plans for annual water treatment efforts take shape, some residents are raising concerns over how herbicides used in treatments could affect the community’s health.

Concerns range from the treatment schedule, the amount of notice, and how water conditions could affect health and well-being. Around 1,900 signatures have been collected in a petition on Change.org calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop glyphosate use in Lake Pend Oreille. The Idaho State Department of Agriculture has also been receiving a high volume of calls about similar concerns.

Sandpoint resident Victoria Burbidge, who has an autoimmune condition called Susac Syndrome, started the petition with hopes that the Corps would restrict glyphosate usage with people’s health in mind. She also said glyphosate is banned in many states and countries and is known to contribute to health issues when ingested. Burbidge, whose syndrome can be triggered by chemicals in the water, started the petition after finding flyers warning residents about flowering rush treatments.

One of these treatments targets flowering boom systems near the Clark Fork Driftyard with aquatic glyphosate and is intended to stop the deterioration of wood structures in that area.

The agency has published an environmental analysis online that goes into detail on specific plans, including treatment at the driftyard.

The driftyard project is the only current treatment plan in the area that includes glyphosate use, Scott Lawrence, spokesperson for the Corps, said. Throughout the entire application, which covers around 7,500 feet of the boom system, the Corps expects to use 10 ounces of solution, which Lawrence describes as "less than a soda can." Applicators are directed to spray only on plants, not on the water, and are only allowed to conduct the treatment when wind speeds are below 5 miles per hour.

The goal of the treatment is to protect the drift facility, which operates by directing logs through the current of the Clark Fork River through a boom system that leads to a holding facility.

"Without this boom system, the debris floating into the Pend Oreille would be dispersed throughout the lake and river, causing recreational and navigational safety hazards," Lawrence said.

"Emergent plants are growing on the upper surface of the boom system, deteriorating the wooden booms, which will result in boom failure. Only booms with vegetation present will receive spot treatments on individual plants."

As the Corps moves forward, they have found a possible solution to eliminating the need for herbicides in the future with a multiple-phase boom replacement plan that replaces current wooden beams with a "more robust plastic system," Lawrence said.

He said the Corps pays close attention to public safety.

"Treatment plots have been extensively surveyed, planned, and targeted specifically to address management of the vegetation impacting the boom system using an EPA and ISDA-registered herbicide containing glyphosate, approved for use in aquatic sites, to minimize the environmental effects outside of the targeted treatment area," Lawrence said.

"Moreover, the product will only be applied directly to the emergent plants (not directly to the water) growing on the upper surface of the wooden log booms. The Corps is operating in compliance with restrictions as provided by the product label."

Primary treatments to target Eurasian watermilfoil taking place in Lake Pend Oreille are conducted by the ISDA and do not involve glyphosate use.

Jeremey Varley, section manager of noxious weeds with the ISDA, confirmed that there are no glyphosate sprays scheduled by the agency. However, it does survey the lake annually to treat Eurasian watermilfoil. Currently, applicators use ProcellaCOR, which the EPA considers a much safer option than glyphosate.

"It’s a different herbicide altogether," Varley said. "It’s only been out for about four years. It came with a very, very high rating from the EPA because its environmental process is to break down, so it doesn’t hold over or continue to run in the water."

He explained that it's a much more selective substance. Where glyphosate would take out many other plants and organisms, ProcellaCOR does a better job at targeting specific invasive species, he said.

The ISDA sends notices to any water rights holders affected by the treatment at least 14 days in advance. Each year, they examine the progress that the previous year’s efforts have made in combating the Eurasian watermilfoil and determine what areas will need treatment. In the past, the department has seen its treatments effectively lessen the number of acres that need to be addressed.

While the Corps and ISDA both have treatment plans scheduled, City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton said any herbicide spraying is not associated with the city or sprayed in city waters.

"I can confirm that we are absolutely not spraying the beach or the water," Stapleton said.

In March 2016, the council adopted a weed management plan that was designed to help the city utilize alternative control measures to better protect the public and environment. This plan outlines the necessary steps that must be taken before resorting to herbicide treatments. The Integrated Weed Management Plan guides the use of ecologically sensitive weed management strategies with an emphasis on the reduction of herbicide use.