No one wants West Nile virus; this is clear. However, the recent avalanche of articles discussing whether fogging with pesticides should be allowed are quite misleading and do not address the big picture.

At my own organization, Pesticide Watch, we advocate for more reliable and nontoxic alternatives to West Nile virus fogging that have already proven effective in communities across the state. But the real issue is much larger.

The real issue is that at the federal level, special-interest groups, namely chemical corporations, are lobbying Congress to cut critical pesticide protections from one of our country's most important federal laws: the Clean Water Act.

Under the Clean Water Act, anyone applying pesticides, whether in rural or urban areas, must acquire a permit.

This is a new requirement, stemming from a recent lawsuit, and is specifically designed to protect one of our most precious natural resources and ensure that decisions about pesticide use are made taking environmental protection and issues of public health into consideration.

Decisions about public health and environmental safety cannot be left to chemical corporations.

Under the proposed legislation now being pushed in Congress, these regulations would be gutted. Pesticides applied right next to water that is critical for drinking and our environment, whether in the Sacramento Delta, along the Colorado River or in the Sierra Nevada, would not be addressed by our country's water laws.


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Specifically, the proposal seeks to reassign regulation of pesticide applications near waterways to a weaker set of laws known as the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

Unfortunately (and the industry knows this), FIFRA is riddled with loopholes and has proved to be a very industry-friendly law that has failed to protect our waterways.

In fact, the U.S. Geological Survey found pesticides in each and every stream they sampled, and in California, almost 30 percent of our water is unsafe for use because of pesticide pollution.

The Clean Water Act should not be weakened. It is designed to function mostly free from chemical and agricultural industry influence, and can look at how different chemicals and pesticides will affect local watersheds and national waters alike.

Regulating pesticide discharge into water is without a doubt necessary to protect our waterways, public health, fish and wildlife.

The best tool that we have to do this is the Clean Water Act. We should not, under any circumstances, undo the regulations that currently require pesticide applications over waterways to have permits.

The risks of West Nile virus are very real. Counties and vector control agencies should address this risk with the toolbox of safe, effective and nontoxic measures that are integral to successful integrated pest management programs across California.

Despite what you hear from those whose real agenda is gutting the Clean Water Act, we can -- and must -- meet the West Nile virus challenge without changing this important law.

Dana Perls is Northern California community organizer with Pesticide Watch and holds a masters of city planning from UC Berkeley.