MMWD plan would keep pesticides out of watershed

01/12/2017

The Marin Municipal Water District has developed a plan to control fire fuels and promote biodiversity—without the use of pesticides—on 22,000 acres of its land, including on Mount Tam and around the Nicasio and Soulajule Reservoirs. 

Curbing multiple kinds of broom in particular, an invasive plant spreading at the rate of 56 acres a year, has been a priority for the district in recent years. 

The plan replaces a draft released in 2012 that called for employing limited pesticides in addition to long-used methods of hand pulling, mechanical removal and prescribed burns. The district had said that using pesticides in some cases would be far less expensive in significantly curbing fire fuels, but the draft came under intense public scrutiny by people opposing the use of chemicals to kill invasives. 

Those concerns, coupled with the labeling of glyphosate—a widely-used pesticide and the main ingredient in Roundup—as probably carcinogenic by an agency of the World Health Organization, led the district to shelve the draft and create a new plan that eliminated pesticide use. 

“Ultimately I think the district understood and responded to the concerns of the community,” said Larry Bragman, the Fairfax councilman and the district’s board member who represents the San Geronimo Valley. “I think the district is properly and wisely and courageously going in this direction… I’m hopeful that once we get it going, we will make some progress and innovation in managing invasives and non-natives.”

The new plan, dubbed the Biodiversity, Fire, and Fuels Integrated Plan, also differs from the earlier draft by addressing forestry health—in particular, concerns about Sudden Oak Death—and climate change.

A 30-day public scoping for the environmental impact report that will evaluate the effects of the plan ends Feb. 3.

The plan outlines three major goals: protecting homes and infrastructure from fire, promoting biodiversity, and monitoring changing conditions for potential updates to the plan. It will dedicate over $11 million in the next five years toward those goals, with funding growing yearly from $1.1 million in 2017 to over $3 million in five years. 

That $11 million includes $1 million for capital costs, including vehicles, a chipper, a weed wash station, A.T.V.s and field radios. Another $936,000 will fund inventory and monitoring work, including the mapping of special-status species, wetlands, and forest pathogens and pests. 

Roughly $9.7 million will go toward vegetation management, a significant leap from years past. For instance, in 2012, the district spent just $410,000 on vegetation management. Funding has increased since then, to $715,000 in 2015 and to $1.1 million in 2016. 

“We need to ramp it up because we haven’t spent enough money on [vegetation management],” said Lon Peterson, a spokesman for the district. 

Mr. Bragman noted that a relatively new fee will help the district pay for the implementation of the plan. Last year, the district added a bimonthly watershed management fee to all customer bills; the amount depends on meter sizes, but averages about $5 a month.

Fire fuels like invasive French, Scotch and Spanish brooms are a big problem on district land, crowding out native plants and presenting a significant fire hazard. Today they affect over 1,400 acres of the Mount Tam watershed. “As plants grow in dense stands, the inner stems die back, providing copious, flammable fuels that can carry fire to the tree canopy, increasing the intensity of fires,” the plan says. 

And the problem is only getting worse. The district estimates that broom is spreading at a rate of 56 acres a year, according to a 2013 mapping project.

The district currently manages its land under a plan, now over two decades old, that largely utilized prescribed burns, mowing, and manual weed removal.

That plan, instituted in 1995, also allowed for herbicide use. After prescribed burns in the ‘90s actually promoted the spread of broom by spurring seed growth, the district used pesticides, including glyphosate and triclopyr, in some projects. But in response to public concerns over the long-term impacts of pesticides, particularly on watershed lands, the district stopped using herbicides in 2005.

Mr. Peterson, the spokesman, said the new plan “reserves the use of prescribed burning to locations that do not have broom present, either above ground or in the soil as dormant seeds. Prescribed burning is reserved for fuel load reduction projections as well as yellow starthistle and goat grass control.”

The district has also outlined specific actions it wants to accomplish through the plan in the next five years. Those include increasing fuel break maintenance by 30 percent; increasing “early detection weed patrols” by 75 percent and increasing “rapid response treatments” of nascent weeds by 300 percent; conducting 18 prescribed burns to make the land more resilient to wildfire and to improve the ecosystem; targeting 768 acres of broom for “complete elimination”; and shrinking the amount of “unmanaged broom” from 690 to 475 acres, among other specific
objectives.

 

Read the full plan at marinwater.org/bffip. Email scoping comments to bffipeir@marinwater.org or mail comments to Dain Anderson, Environmental Services Coordinator, Marin Municipal Water District, 220 Nellen Avenue Corte Madera, CA 94925. Comments are due on Feb. 3. The district will hold a meeting to gather public input on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. at Marin Art & Garden Center (30 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard), in Ross.