By Barbara Wood
Special to the Almanac
Despite vociferous protests by county residents, requests by county officials and warnings from the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, the California Department of Transportation was spraying herbicides along Highway 84/La Honda Road early this week, according to local residents.
Patty Mayall of La Honda says she was informed by Caltrans that the spraying was taking place on Monday, despite a weekend of rain and more in the forecast. Residents and water quality experts worry that wet conditions will send the toxic herbicides into water supplies. Caltrans officials have not returned emails or calls from the Almanac asking for comment on the spraying.
Ms. Mayall was originally told on Tuesday, Nov. 15, that Caltrans would be spraying on Friday, Nov. 18, with the chemicals Milestone VM and Payload, along Hwy. 84 from the coast to Skyline Boulevard.
"I don't consider this proper notification," Ms. Mayall said. "It's wrong that we're given two days. We need an on-road notification policy as part of our integrated pest management for this county."
Brendan Thompson, an environmental specialist with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, said in an email that he has asked Caltrans to postpone the spraying, both because rain is forecast on Friday and because the county report on vegetation management is due out Nov. 23.
County Environmental Health Director Dean Peterson said in an email that he had also asked Caltrans to wait until a county study on alternatives to spraying has been considered.
"He indicated that Caltrans was not willing to wait," Mr. Peterson wrote in the email. "Unfortunately the Health System has no authority over Caltrans, the decision to spray is solely a Caltrans decision," he wrote.
Caltrans did postpone the spraying from Friday until Monday, Nov. 21.
On July 26, San Mateo County supervisors Don Horsley and Dave Pine, the two members of the Board of Supervisors' Environmental Quality Committee, agreed to hire consultants to report to the county about how it can control weeds using as few chemicals as possible. Until that report comes back, the two supervisors asked that all broadcast spraying be stopped.
The vegetation management report is due on Nov. 23, and tentatively scheduled to be discussed at an Environmental Quality Committee meeting on Dec. 6 at 2 p.m.
Mr. Thompson's email said: "Although we cannot prohibit Caltrans from spraying herbicide as part of their vegetation management program, the Caltrans Statewide Stormwater Permit requires 'application of herbicides in a manner that minimizes or eliminates the discharge of herbicides to receiving waters,' and that 'factors to be considered include timing in relation to expected precipitation events, proximity to receiving water bodies. ... 'I recommended to Mr. Kwan that given the weekend rain forecast for the area, Caltrans postpone any plans for spraying this Friday; I also mentioned that any spraying occurring within 48 hours of a rain event could be considered a violation of their stormwater permit."
Ms. Mayall said she plans to ask the county to extend the moratorium on broadcast roadside spraying until the vegetation management report is brought before the entire Board of Supervisors.
Many of the residents in the unincorporated part of the county, where the spraying was scheduled, get their drinking water from wells or other sources they say they fear could be infiltrated by chemicals used to kill weeds.