BY DIANE DIETZ
The Register‐Guard PUBLISHED SEPT. 12
FLORENCE — Scott Meyer was flabbergasted to learn recently that no law prevents timberland owners from spraying herbicides on brush upstream from a public drinking water intake.
Meyer, general manager of the Heceta Water District, assumed that drinking water
protections in Lane County codes and Oregon laws would bar spraying such as that which a private timber owner was expected to begin today next to Heceta’s water source.
Lane County codes protect the Clear Lake watershed — where the district draws water from threats such as leaky septic tanks, faulty storage of chemicals, road building and activities that muddy streams. But they expressly permit the use of herbicides.
“I was just surprised by the whole practice,” Meyer said. “It’s happening all over. It really
opened my eyes, because I didn’t realize what was going on.”
The Heceta Water District serves 4,500 residents who live north of the Florence city limits and east of Highway 101.
The district draws its water from Clear Lake, one in a string of connected freshwater lakes — Collard, Clear, Munsel and others — that sit between sand dunes to the west and the Coast Range to the east.
Clear Lake’s floor is sand and its waters are extremely clear.
Meyer and other Florence area neighbors have been scrutinizing the landowner’s Watershed spraying disputed Eugene…helicopter herbicide application plans since spring, when the owners logged their property adjacent to Collard Lake. Meyer and the neighbors have appealed to various state agencies to stop the spray, but found they have no recourse under the Oregon Forest Practices Act,
the law that governs logging on private lands. The district even has offered the landowners up to $40,000 if they would promise not to spray and instead have weeds cleared by hand.
“Who would have thought that standard forest practice in Oregon would be to allow aerial
spray” next to drinking water, Meyer said. “Our only wish is that they not apply the
herbicides, and (instead) pull (brush) by hand.”
But the landowners, Howard and Lisa Charnock, who own more than 80 acres of
timberland on either side of a ridge east of Collard Lake, say spraying is the only sure way to ensure that the crop of trees they’ll plant in January will thrive and meet state
requirements that owners replant logged land and ensure that a large number of seedlings survive.
Yet, purity of the water is a concern for the broader Florence community. A 50‐mile long
aquifer underlies the Florence area lakes. The Florence municipal waterworks draws from the aquifer to serve its 8,500 residents. It’s the sole source of water for Florence and the Heceta Water District.
The herbicide issue is packing the meeting room at the Heceta Water District. Normally, “if we get one or two or three we feel honored,” Meyer said. But recent meetings have included an overflow into the parking lot.
Neighbor Shauna Boyd and others fear that Heceta’s drinking water will be tainted by drift from aerial spraying and runoff from sprayed areas that are manually sprayed.
The Charnocks — who live in California — hired Western Helicopter Services to spray the chemical glyphosate on their roughly 20 acres that lie on the eastern side of the ridge they own. That acreage drains into different watershed, which runs into the North Fork of the Siuslaw River, Howard Charnock said. The remainder of the spraying will be manual, also using glyphosate, he said.
The herbicide spray will be well controlled and follow state law, said Link Smith, district
forester with the state Department of Forestry.
The herbicides are necessary to kill blackberries, salmon berries, Scotch broom and grasses in preparation for replanting a forest, he said. If left unchecked, the brush will shade the seedlings and the grasses will win the competition for rainfall.
Glyphosate is heavily used in urban areas to produce yards unmarred by clover, dandelions or other troublesome species, Smith said. Roundup contains glyphosate.
There’s far less herbicide applied to timberland because its typically done for one or two
years until the trees outgrow the brush, and not again until after the trees are harvested 40 years later, Smith said.
Lisa Arkin, executive director of Eugene‐based Beyond Toxics, agreed that urban use of
pesticides is a problem.
“But what’s at stake here (in the Heceta Water District) is the drinking water — and a
homeowner using it on their lawn isn’t spraying it from a helicopter with rotating blades
many feet in the air on wind currents on the coast. You have the problem of aerial drift
combined with the runoff through the soil or tributaries to these lakes,” she said.
The Charnocks stress that they will spray the Clear Lake side of the ridge by hand, which means workers with backpacks.
That, Meyer said, is a good thing. “If they wanted to say right now forget it — to heck with all you people — we’re going to aerially spray, I don’t think there’s much we can do about it — except watch how they apply it,” he said.
Charnock, who lives near Monterey Bay, Calif., said he and his wife have done a lot of
research on glyphosate, the chemical that will be sprayed on the lake side of the ridge.
He is a computer security expert; she is now director of real estate for the University of
California, Santa Cruz. Earlier, she was an herbicide consultant to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Exposure to glyphosate has not been linked with cancer, according to the Oregon State
University based National Pesticide Information Center. However, in rat studies, in which
pregnant rats were given very high doses repeatedly, the mother rats got sick and the
fetuses gained weight slowly and some had skeletal defects.
Charnock said he’s satisfied that the chemical is safe to use. “It doesn’t travel. It’s nontoxic. And the half life — it’s highly variable — it could be up to 180 days. It depends on the microbes in the soil and the weather conditions, but it does dissipate rather quickly,” he said.
If a herbicide has to be used, glyphosate is probably the best choice for the watershed,
Meyer said. “My concern is that, in 20 or 30 years, they’re going to find this glyphosate to be a lot worse than it seems,” he added.
The Charnocks bought their Clear Lake area property in 2002 for $215,000, according to
Lane County land records. They plan to build a house and retire there in