By MITCH LIES
HOOD RIVER, Ore. -- In 1998, when high levels of organophosphate pesticides were detected in nearby Neal Creek, it caught the attention of area farmers, pear grower Brian Nakamura said at a recent pesticide stewardship workshop.
With the help of federal and state agencies and Oregon State University, the Columbia Gorge Fruit Growers Association started surveying pest management practices, Nakamura said Oct. 4.
They also developed maps identifying where detections were high and a manual of best management practices to reduce the use of toxic pesticides and minimize pesticide exposure to surface water, Nakamura said.
Fourteen years later, detections of organophosphates in Hood River County have dropped by more than 90 percent, according to Kevin Masterson, toxics coordinator of the Department of Environmental Quality.
"We're pretty proud of that," Nakamura said.
"The best part about the partnership is it has been a locally driven collaborative effort," Nakamura said.
Nakamura's presentation was among several success stories growers told a workshop sponsored by the Oregon Environmental Council.
Pesticide stewardship partnerships have reduced pesticides in surface water here and in other basins where pilot projects are under way, workshop participants said, but more needs to be done.
The efforts could help diffuse future restrictions on pesticide use, participants said.
"It is voluntary," said cherry grower Ken Bailey from The Dalles. "But I think everyone understands that if you don't see it through, eventually it is going to come down to a regulatory situation."
"In Oregon, we need to figure out what has happened in Hood River the last few years and spread it around the state," said Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, at the workshop.
The Hood River County pilot project, which started in 2000, was the first pesticide stewardship partnership in Oregon, Masterson said.
"We had folks that wanted to sit down at the table and get going on this project," Masterson said.
Subsequent pilot projects have developed in The Dalles, Walla Walla, the Yamhill, Pudding River, Clackamas and Amazon Creek, or Long Tom, watersheds.
As in Hood River, organophosphate pesticide detections dropped by more than 90 percent in the Walla Walla watershed since 2006, Masterson said. Levels in The Dalles also have dropped substantially, he said.
Growers have adopted "a diverse range of measures ... to get results," Masterson said, including using less toxic pesticides, adopting integrated pest management programs and establishing buffer strips.
Key to the projects, Masterson said, is monitoring.
State Sen. Chuck Thomsen, a Hood River pear grower, agreed.
"If we know we have issues, we can deal with them without being regulated," he said.
Thomsen said that when he learned pesticides were showing up in the Hood River watershed, he adopted practices to reduce pesticide exposure to surface water, including turning off nozzles as he neared the ends of rows.
Also, he said, growers scaled back on the more toxic pesticides as effective substitutes became available.
"The real challenge is in helping growers develop alternative strategies that maintain profitability," said Mike Omeg, a cherry grower from The Dalles.