Easter Lilies are Poisoning Salmon/People on Smith River: Boycott and Ask for an Ag Permit

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The Smith River in Northern California is the state’s wildest river, and it’s the only completely undammed watershed in the state. Salmon should be thriving in the Smith, however unregulated Easter lily farming is poisoning the Smith River estuary and harming protected salmon species. The pesticides are also causing health issues in the Smith River community, which has the highest rates of mortality due to heart disease, stroke, and chronic lower respiratory disease in the state. Smith River Easter lily bulbs are sold throughout the country as part of Easter celebrations. We ask that the public boycott non-organic Easter lilies until their chemical pollution is regulated.

The Smith River estuary provides essential habitat for salmon. However, Smith River Estuary lily bulb famers apply an annual average of 300,000 pounds of highly toxic pesticides on some 1,000 acres of lily fields that drain directly into the Smith River estuary every year. This concentration of pesticide use is as high or higher than anywhere else in the state, and almost all of it occurs in along salmon streams. Water testing by the state has turned up 10 instances of contamination within the salmon food chain, and 17 pesticides in surface waters. Recently the domestic water supply for the town of Smith River turned up a chemical that has been banned in California.

The Smith River estuary is a critically component of the California-Oregon salmon ecosystem. It is especially important due to its close proximity to the Klamath River, which is currently suffering from the worst salmon returns in recorded history. The Smith River lies at the heart of the federally recognized evolutionarily significant unit (ESU) for Southern Oregon-Northern California Coho salmon, an endangered species that biologists warn is headed for extinction. The Smith River is also the home of the Tolowa Tribe, which relies on it’s fisheries.

Despite years of documented water quality violations and over 20 years of complaints of pollution of wells and surface water, estuary farmers face no regulation from the state agencies charged by the federal government to protect endangered species and clean water.

For years, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has assured the public that an Agricultural Waiver is being drafted for the lily bulb farmers, and for 20 years Board officials have promised to take action to regulate the Smith River lily bulb farms. Yet no progress has been, made and the public was were recently told that these efforts have been put on the back burner indefinitely.   

We are not asking for the end to lily bulb farming, only that the same common sense regulations that apply to the rest of the state apply to the Smith River. It is time that the water board regulates toxins, and protect salmon and human health in the Smith River estuary.


Photo: Town of Smith River outlined in yellow. Red dots depict Easter lily fields. Blue line is Rowdy Creek. Arrow points to Smith River Elementary School, which is virtually always downwind of pesticide spraying.




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