Port Townsend samples water in response to herbicide spraying

Public works director expects results this week

PORT TOWNSEND — City officials collected a sample at the water treatment facility Tuesday to test for the chemical glyphosate after concerned residents flooded the Port Townsend City Council with public comments this month.

About 30 people addressed council members during comment periods both Monday night and on Aug. 5 in response to their concern about aerial spraying of herbicides on Pope Resources timberland.

Many said glyphosate, the active ingredient in the aerial spray, was getting into the watershed, including City Lake, the reservoir that provides Port Townsend with drinking water.

Greg Lanning, Port Townsend Public Works director, said a sample was collected Tuesday and sent to a regional lab. He expects results by the end of this week.

“There will only be one test today where we typically test to ensure safe drinking water for those in the distribution system,” Lanning said.

Adrian Miller, Pope Resources’ vice president of corporate affairs and administration, said his company has been working with the city public works department to let them know where spraying will occur.

“They’ve tested in response to concerns like this in the past,” Miller said. “They’re doing what they need to do.”

Council directed public works staff earlier this month to investigate whether or not a specific test for glyphosate exists, and if so, how much it would cost.

Lanning told the council Monday night he coordinated with the state Department of Health and purchased two jars at $250 each.

“We intend to do another test within a few weeks once we determine exactly what went on in the watershed,” Lanning said.

Diane Dimond of Port Townsend told council the spraying has been emotional “because Port Townsend is a very magical city.”

“I know I’ll never accept a glass of water in a restaurant, but they’re going to use the water to make coffee or tea,” she said.

Dimond implored the council not to do another study but to take action.

“I’m counting on you, and I don’t care if it’s your purview or not,” she said. “This is an emergency, and we need to do something to stop it.”

Lanning said the sample will be put through a mass spectrometer, where light sources will determine if chemicals exist, and if so, how much of each chemical.

The city has tested for more than 80 different constituents in the past nine years, and it publishes an annual consumer confidence report online under its water resources page. It also has a link for the past 20 years of reports.

“If we find these constituents in the water, then we follow-up test,” Lanning said. “We simply aren’t finding them in the water.”

Lanning suggested chemicals like glyphosate are permitted by the state Department of Agriculture because there isn’t much chance of them getting into the watershed.

“When they hit the ground, they pretty much adhere to the ground or they adhere to the plant,” he said. “They have this affinity for attracting themselves to these particles.”

Sometimes at treatment facilities, agencies will intentionally use particulate matter that will be filtered because the chemicals will naturally bond based on electrical charge at the atomic level, Lanning said.

He also said rivers naturally clean themselves through the churn and oxidation process.

“We do know it’s effective on some of the chemicals,” Lanning said.

At City Lake specifically, he said several factors are in play.

“The lake itself is just one very large buffer,” Lanning said. “It’s got natural chemicals, and leaves will change the pH.

“The lake is a natural treatment system, much like the air is.”

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Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].

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