Another View: CEQA tweak could reduce mosquito threat

Published: Saturday, Apr. 20, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 12A

On behalf of the Mosquito and Vector Control Association of California, I wish to thank The Bee for the excellent column on the dangers of, and challenges to, controlling mosquito-borne diseases ("Crossing Borders/Malaria," March 24).

This column was well-researched and eloquent in relating the current challenges in Africa to California's past struggles to control the spread of disease.

Our association comprises more than 60 mosquito and vector control agencies throughout the state, as well as a diverse group of scientists, academics and public health professionals committed to the protection of public health and the environment as well as the advancement of the science of mosquito control.

As Pia Lopez noted in the column, since the early 1900s we have been working on the front lines of public health surveillance and control for outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, encephalitis and West Nile virus.

In this effort, we have been chagrined to often find that we are victims of our own success. As you note in your article, the greater Sacramento area experienced some of the largest death tolls from malaria in the past.

Yet in 2013, that is rarely remembered, which is why we appreciate that your readers have been reminded of our not-so-distant past.

Today we face the spread of West Nile virus. In 2002, the first case appeared in California in a single human case. By 2003, there were cases in six counties. Today, West Nile has spread to all 58 counties in California, affecting humans, horses and birds, including the endangered California condor.

At the same time, we are trying to reduce the use of pesticides to control mosquitoes to protect the environment and to prevent the development of resistance.

To meet this challenge and provide multiple benefits for the environment, public health and the economy, the California Department of Public Health has developed a set of best management practices to reduce the possibility of creating habitat for mosquitoes, focusing on water management and good design for water features.

When implemented, these BMPs will reduce the need for use of pesticides to control mosquito proliferation. In addition, widespread deployment of these best management practices will improve water quality, lower liability for potential cleanup and abatement costs by landowners and project proponents, and most critically of all, prevent the spread of vector-borne diseases such as West Nile virus.

Our obstacle to fully achieving these enormous public benefits is lack of awareness on the part of those who plan and design development projects. Many developers and project proponents do not routinely review the CDPH website.

On the other hand, these developers do regularly review CEQA before commencing project design. Minor revisions to CEQA could harness this habit and ensure that knowledge of the BMPs is well-known and its utilization is widespread.

It is, short and simple, the spread of knowledge, which is an incredibly low-cost way to achieve massive environmental and public health benefits.

Catherine Smith is executive director of the Mosquito and Vector Control Association of California

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