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PAN North America has launched a test version of the WaterPIC, a new web database with the latest available information about pesticide pollutants in California's rivers, creeks and other surface waters. This new tool makes it easy to see relationships between pesticide use and surface water impacts. Until now, this has been very difficult, and the new WaterPIC provides unprecedented access to this vital information affecting California's waters for anyone with an Internet connection.
The potential uses are broad and far reaching. For example, a group concerned with restoring a creek or bringing salmon or steelhead trout back to a watershed could check the WaterPIC to see potential links between pesticide uses and pesticide levels in aquatic organisms or a water body. An urban resident could look to see if pesticides had been applied near areas that serve as their city's drinking water reservoir, and to see if water sampling provided evidence of pesticide-contaminated runoff into the reservoir. A rural communitycan now check pesticides used in nearby orchards, vineyards or fields and develop a water sampling plan to measure pollution levels in their water and to find "data gaps" where there is no monitoring data. The WaterPIC makes this information easier to obtain and understand and thereby will help communities advocate for safer pest management practices affecting their water, scientists expedite research, and regulators focus on areas of concern.
The WaterPIC integrates multiple sources of information, including: surface water sampling results from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) and the United States Geological Survey; Pesticide Use Reporting (PUR) data from DPR on pesticide applications from 1991 through 2003; pesticide chemical properties assembled by PANNA; and aquatic toxicity data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The WaterPIC also links to the information offered on the PAN Pesticides Database website, www.pesticideinfo.org, where users can access chemical toxicity, poisoning symptoms, regulatory status and pesticide use information. Additionally, at the PAN North America website, www.panna.org, users can obtain more narrative descriptions of pesticides and alternatives through the Pesticide Advisor and the Pesticides Database.
Regulating Pesticide runoff in California waterways
Many creeks and streams in California have been listed as impaired by pesticides as defined under the 1977 Clean Water Act. California leads the U.S. in pesticide use, with approximately 310 million pounds of pesticide active ingredients sold in 2002. (1) Pesticides are transported to water by many routes, and many pesticides are commonly found in surface and ground water, sediments, and animal tissues. Pesticides in water from agricultural runoff are classified by the Act as non-point source pollutants.
In the first years after adoption of the U.S. Clean Water Act in 1977, pesticides were not an enforcement priority as EPA and state programs focused on reducing point source pollutants from manufacturing, processing, power generation, water treatment facilities and others. Regulation in the U.S. of non-point sources was spurred by environmental lawsuits in the 1980s, and in recent years regulators are striving to meet the Act's requirements to limit non-point source pollution. Under the Act, California's regional water quality control boards,-the agencies responsible for enforcing environmental regulations-are required to list all waterways contaminated by non-point source pollutants and limit further pollution by enforcing caps for pollutants in contaminated waterways, called total maximum daily loads (TMDLs). (2) In other words, under TMDL laws and policies, regulatory agencies are required to set maximum amounts of pesticides (or loads) that can be released into a watershed for any given day. Currently, California's regional water quality control boards are developing and establishing TMDLs for more than 120 waterways polluted from a variety of sources. Pesticide runoff is a major component of this pollution in California, and the WaterPIC can be a valuable tool in helping to understand the scope and magnitude of this problem.
The WaterPIC provides better access to pesticide information
Before the WaterPIC existed, various large datasets on pesticide use and water quality were available from public agencies, but were scattered across different sources and were often difficult to understand for most users. These barriers made it challenging for regulators and scientists, to say nothing of community groups or concerned individuals, to use this information.
With the WaterPIC, users can now obtain summary statistics on pesticide use in any watershed in California and build that information into custom graphs and tables to show possible relationships between pesticide applications and water quality monitoring results. Users of the site may now be able to track trends in pesticide use by watershed, develop water quality monitoring plans, or evaluate the effectiveness of best agricultural and pest management practices for preventing pesticide water pollution.
PANNA developed the WaterPIC site in order to support increased public use and distribution of water quality information on pesticides, improve the efficiency of data analysis, and provide robust, objective and scientifically defensible information for public policy that will improve water quality. An Advisory Board, with representatives from U.S. EPA, U.S. Geological Survey, California Water Board staff, public interest groups and scientists continues to provide the project with invaluable feedback and advice. Development of the database was supported by funds from U.S. EPA Region IX, the San Francisco Foundation and the True North Foundation.
A "Beta version" of the WaterPIC -a working release to allow user testing-is now available on the PAN Pesticides Database website: http://www.pesticideinfo.org. Users are urged to send comments using the feedback function on the site.
1. Report of Pesticides Sold in California 2002, California Department of Pesticide Regulation, http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/mlassess/nopdsold.htm.
2. An excellent explanation of TDMLs and brief history of non-point source regulation under the Clean Water Act is available on the California Regional Water Quality Control Board's web site under TMDL Information at: www.swrcb.ca.gov/tmdl/background.html.