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Mosquito districts bitten by court decision, reduced tax dollars

POSTED June 17, 2009 4:46 p.m.
Just as California enters the most dangerous time of the year for mosquito and West Nile virus outbreaks, mosquito abatement districts around the state are finding their ability to fight the pests hampered by new restrictions on mosquito sprays and reduced funding from the state.
The 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in January that the use of certain pesticides used to kill adult mosquitoes could violate the Clean Water Act, preventing mosquito abatement districts from using the sprays without a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.
According to the Mosquito and Vector Control Association of California, the pesticide has been used for over 30 years to effectively control adult mosquitoes in water.
“Mosquito control agencies expect to be impacted by the economic downturn along with everyone else, but we worry about the implications,” said MVCAC President John Rusmisel. “Without a legal way to manage epidemic disease transmission by mosquitoes, this year we are facing a situation where the public will be at high risk for West Nile virus.”
At least 15 Californians died due to West Nile virus in 2008, while the disease sickened 428 more.
According to Turlock Mosquito Abatement District Manager Jerry Davis, the court decision will have an effect on local mosquito fighting efforts.
The TMAD will be spraying larva-killing insecticides, for which they have a NPDES permit, but according to Davis the newly required permits for the adult mosquito pesticides could not be processed until September or October. By that time, he says, mosquito season has already come to a close.
The District is currently awaiting the final ruling on the case, however, as the court is still deciding what to do about pending appeals. Davis said the court might put a stay on the pesticide ban, or otherwise create some temporary exception or fast-tracked permit process which would allow abatement districts to effectively fight adult mosquitoes this summer.
Outside of the pending ban on adult mosquito insecticides, local efforts to fight the pests will continue to the same standard as last year despite reduced funding. The District expects to be hit by an 8 percent state “borrowing” of Prop 1A funds and a projected 10 percent decline in property tax revenues due to the down economy.
“The good news is we're going to be providing the same level of service as we did last year,” Davis said.
The TMAD will, however, be required to borrow heavily from reserve accounts in order to make up for the reduced revenues, leaving fewer reserves for the years to come.
“The problem is, as we continue over the next couple of years, it's going to be harder and harder to maintain the same level of services,” Davis said.
For this year, however, the TMAD has continued with a program began last year which photographs all the backyards in the district, so as to identify potentially neglected swimming pools which can become mosquito spawning grounds. The District identified 758 potentially infected pools in the area, including 227 just in Turlock.
While Davis said that's an increase in raw numbers from last year, probably due to the current economic downturn, he's beginning to see signs that the foreclosure crisis may be coming to a close.
“A lot more property owners this year are able to come in and repair the pools,” Davis said. “A lot of places that have been vacant are being sold and people are moving in.”
To report a dead bird, which can be a potential carrier of West Nile virus, call the Dead Bird Hotline at 1 (877) 968-2473.
For help with mosquito problems, or to receive free mosquito fish to combat infestation in ponds, call TMAD at 634-1234.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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