Stopping the use of Bayer’s (Monsanto) flagship herbicide Roundup might be perceived as a David and Goliath fight against a multi-billion dollar company, but when your local water department defends its use, the issue becomes personal and contentious in a small community. Chris Moran shares the story of how she and a dedicated group of community members fought back against glyphosate use in their community — and won!
Water usage and rights are topics that interest my husband, Rick Moran. He grew up on a pond, lived on Soquel Creek and served in the Navy aboard a submarine — he’s been in, around and under an awful lot of water. As a retired teacher and organic gardener in Ben Lomond, California, he decided to join the Environmental Committee for the local San Lorenzo Valley Water District. The small district serves 7,900 connections with mostly surface water.
Six months into the appointment things were going well. Then, Rick began reading through a proposal titled “French Broom Management Plan for the Olympia Watershed.” He realized that the Water District had used, and was going to again use, the controversial herbicide glyphosate in a “cut and dab” process to kill about 19,000 invasive broom plants. Worse yet, the herbicide would be used near two well heads.
The battle begins
Once Rick questioned the Water District directors and staff about the use of this harmful chemical on our watershed, the relationship turned sour. They had expected him to be a “team player” and go along with their plan, but instead Rick placed a notice about the plan in the local Press Banner. Water Board meetings often have low attendance, but the next meeting had people spilling out the door! Ratepayers spoke out strongly against using Roundup — yet the majority of the board held firm.
The Water District had a long history of working with, and handsomely paying for, habitat restoration “experts” who advised that cut and dab (with glyphosate) was the best way to eliminate broom plants from the 80-acre property; these experts often rely on glyphosate to poison invasive plants. Over the next few months, ratepayers made it clear that they didn’t want the agency using Roundup. The board dodged the issue by switching to a DowDuPont product that still contained glyphosate!
This was discouraging, but through all this we saw that we did have some influence to change minds as the district’s Operations Manager recognized the risks to his employees and decided to stop using Roundup for weed abatement on other district properties.
In with the bold
Following this momentum, Rick and I were invited to join a small political campaign that was promoting a slate of three new candidates to run against the incumbent directors at the Water District. Promoting a slate can be risky but the group felt it was the best way to effect real change because they would secure a majority if they won. Most importantly, the challengers agreed to campaign against the use of herbicides.
Weekly campaign meetings consisted of 11 dedicated people with amazing talents. We promoted public outreach and education, letters to the editor, targeted advertising in newspapers and radio stations, created catchy road signs and a executed brilliant use of online media. We called the incumbents “the Glypho-Slate.” We waved homemade signs on the Felton bridge (a choke point leading to the San Lorenzo Valley) to catch the stream of traffic coming home from work. We handed out fliers, shook hands, and the candidates talked with residents outside of stores and at community events. We hit the big issues: incumbents ignoring their public, the use of toxic chemicals in our water, grand jury investigations, rate increases, and out-of-control meetings.
During the campaign, a candidates forum was held at the local high school — the public knew that this was a contentious fight but wanted to make up their own minds about issues. About 200 people attended and the incumbents’ talking points were embarrassingly predictable. One member who was up for re-election doubled down on using glyphosate, unbelievably stating, “Using one cup of glyphosate is environmentally a good thing.” That comment asks you to suspend belief, as if one cup would suffice for thousands of broom plants. It just didn't make sense.
A win for the community
Election day arrived and the results rolled in, decisive and impressive! Our candidates garnered 58% of votes while the Glypho-Slate pulled in only 42%. A record-breaking 76.3% of registered voters stepped up and turned out! It was a victory for the community and the environment.
In December, the slate of Fultz, Henry and Swan were sworn in as the new Directors of the San Lorenzo Valley Water District. They have promised the use of an Integrated Pest Management Plan, no use of glyphosate, and a more healthy direction for the district and community.
Our grassroots group chipped away at the established foundation of herbicide use that exists from the corporate level to our neighborhoods. But this isn’t just a story about our group. It proves that a small group of dedicated movers and shakers can take on some well-heeled political groups and blow past them to effect real change from the voters who know the truth when it’s put before them.
Update: Since this blog was published, the new board of the San Lorenzo Valley Water District voted for an outright ban on the use of glyphosate within the Water District properties!
Photo: Ken from Scotts Valley, USA, via Wikimedia Commons