EPA Lays Out Timeline for Pesticide Change
by Nate Poppino
Times-News, June 23, 2009
SUN VALLEY - A sharp change in federal pesticide regulations may be on hold for now. But Idaho irrigation districts and canal companies should prepare to seek permits in 2011 if they want to use the chemicals to clean out canals and agricultural ditches, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Idaho office warned Monday.
In January, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down an EPA rule - based on longstanding practice - that exempted such pesticide use from pollutant-discharge permits. The court agreed this month to delay the decision's effective date until April 2011. The decision is being challenged by industry groups, though not by the EPA itself.
Speaking at the Idaho Water Users Association's summer law seminar, EPA Idaho Director Jim Werntz said the decision has left his agency with the challenge of developing a permitting program in just two years - as well as helping the 46 states that handle permits themselves to develop their own programs. He agreed with Boise attorney and fellow presenter S. Bryce Farris' statement that the court cases have produced ever-more-confusing regulations.
"The courts are keeping us kind of busy and on our toes," Werntz said.
Irrigators would be far from the only group touched by the change. The EPA estimates the decision could require permits for everything from mosquito suppression activities to herbicides used for weed control in irrigation systems and along ditch banks. Substances used to kill invasive mussels, fish and similar species may also need to be addressed.
While Werntz couldn't say what the final product will look like two years from now, he attempted to provide some guidance as to the process of developing it.
The EPA will run the permitting program in Idaho and three other states, and Werntz said he aims to include a pesticides expert from his office on the national team developing the permits. The agency, he said, figures the court won't approve of the other states falling behind, so EPA will use the program it develops as guidance simultaneously for the state programs. Twenty-three states already have smaller versions of the pesticide permits, he said.
Even in Idaho - which, as an EPA state, won't charge fees - the program may come as a cost.
IWUA Executive Director Norm Semanko said water users in Washington state, which has its own program, told him an entity the size of the Twin Falls Canal Co. can spend at least $250,000 a year for water-quality monitoring it would do anyway.
Werntz said he's concerned about what it will take for his agency to do the job, while reassuring those gathered that it's actively confronting the work.
"I have no idea what the resource expense is going to be on this, or how we'll accomplish it," he said.
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