Lily Bulb Farms Threaten Life on the Smith River
The Smith River Plain, a strip of gently sloping land along the north bank of the Smith River extending northward to Brookings, Oregon, is where 95% of US Easter lily bulbs are grown.
The climate of the North Coast combines the high precipitation and mild temperatures that are just right for lily bulb culture. However, because growing bulbs is challenging, more pesticides per acre are used on the Smith River Plain to keep nematodes and other soil plant pests away than anywhere else in California.
According to the Siskiyou Land Conservancy, about 300,000 pounds of toxic pesticides are either injected into the soil or sprayed from the air on the 1,000 acres of lily fields that drain directly to the Smith River estuary each year. Among the pesticides used regularly on the Plain since lily farming began in 1941 are soil fumigants, some of which have been subsequently banned because of their dire health impacts.
Groundwater Contamination and Chemical Exposure
Concerns about contamination of drinking water wells on the Plain surfaced in the 1960s. A 1970 report and a suspected cancer cluster led to development of the Smith River Community Water System, which draws water from a well distant and upstream from the lily bulb fields and its regular testing results reveal no pesticide contamination.
In addition to residences that are not connected to the system, there are concerns that agricultural workers, the students and staff at the Smith River Elementary School and even those driving by on Route 101 may be exposed to toxic pesticides which local residents observe are often sprayed on windy days.
In 2013 the North Coast Water Quality Control Board began testing surface water and stream sediments on the Plain and found chemical contaminants and pesticides that are toxic to aquatic life, including copper. Testing repeated in 2015 included groundwater wells, again finding a suite of chemicals. Two of the seven wells tested also had 1,2-Dichloropropane, a pesticide used until it was banned in 1983. It was this chemical in drinking water wells that led to development of the Smith River Community Water System.
The levels of 1,2-Dichloropropane found are considered acceptable by the US EPA and the State of California. Contamination was also below levels found when the wells were last tested in 2002. Groundwater samples from three of seven wells tested did not meet acceptable limits for nitrate in drinking water. According to the Water Board, those wells are used for irrigation, not drinking water.
CWA Permit Development
The North Coast Water Board is developing a Clean Water Act permit for lily bulb farming on the Smith River Plain. The North Group’s water chair is participating in the process.
The North Group wants a permit that will protect residents and the environment, including the Smith River estuary—a critical component of the best salmon and steelhead habitat remaining in California. In our view, safe lily bulb growing on Smith River Plain requires much wider no-spray buffers on residences, public buildings and schools, and on streams and other water bodies. It also requires a robust monitoring program that includes not only regular testing of surface and groundwater but also reporting of dates on which pesticide applications take place and monitoring of wind speed and precipitation on those
Monitoring and reporting the wind speed on days when toxic chemicals are sprayed aerially is particularly important, because most are not intended to be sprayed when wind speed exceeds 10 miles per hour. However, the Smith River Plain regularly experiences high and gusty winds.
You Can Help
You can help by contacting North Coast Water Board executive officer Matt St. John (firstname.lastname@example.org; 707-570-3762), or attend the North Coast Water Board meeting at Eureka City Hall Council Chambers, April 7, beginning at 8:30 a.m. During the public forum section of the meeting, tell Mr. St. John and the North Coast Water Board that we need wind monitoring and wide no-spray buffers on residences, the school, streams and the Smith River Estuary in order to protect workers, school kids and staff, those who live on the plain, Smith River salmon and steelhead and the environment from toxic contamination. For more information, check in with the Siskiyou Land Conservancy at siskiyouland.org.
One need not be a Sierra Club member to participate in these outings. Please join us!
Sunday, April 24—North Group Smith River NRA-Jedediah Smith State Park Hike. From the trailhead off South Fork Rd., we climb past a succession of botanical communities and stunning views. Nearing 2,000’, the trail levels and gradually descends through broken prairies to enter old growth redwoods as we near Howland Hill Rd., where our shuttle cars await. Bring food, water, hiking boots. No dogs. Moderate difficulty, ten miles, less than 2,000 ft. elevation change. Meet 9:30 AM Hiouchi Ranger Station. (Hwy 199 opposite Jed. Smith Campground entrance) By reservation only. Contact leader Melinda at email@example.com or 668-4275 for more information.
Saturday, May 14—North Group Patrick’s Point State Park Ivy Pull and Rim Trail Hike. Join Northcoast CNPS, other volunteers and State Parks staff for a morning ivy pull, then lunch and an afternoon Rim Trail hike. Check at the entrance station for the day’s location. Work starts at 9 a.m. No admission fee for ivy volunteers. Bring your work clothes and sturdy shoes and your favorite tools and gloves, or use those provided. Bring your lunch, and dress for the weather. No dogs. Moderate difficulty, approx. four mile walk, less than 1,000 ft. elevation change. Carpools 8:15 at Ray’s Valley West. Leader Ned, firstname.lastname@example.org, (707) 825-3652. For more information contact ivy volunteer Mitch at email@example.com, or Michelle at 677-3109 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, May 22—Prairie Creek State Park Miners Ridge Loop West. Starting from Miners Ridge Trailhead off Beach Road, we gradually ascend through lush coastal rain forest into hillside redwoods. In 2 miles, we meet the Clintonia Trail, connecting to James Irvine and Fern Canyon. A mile south on the Coastal Trail closes the loop. Carry lunch and liquids. Prepare for wet woods, sun, wind. No dogs. Moderate difficulty, seven miles, less than 1,000 ft. elevation change. Carpools 9 AM Ray’s Valley West. Meet 9:45 AM Elk Meadow day use parking area (off Davison Road). Contact leader Melinda at email@example.com or 668-4275 for more info. Serious rain or winds cancel.