2012 was a bad year for West Nile Virus in Western Colorado. Mesa, Montrose and Delta Counties accounted for nearly half the confirmed cases in the state. In Delta County, the 22 cases included the death of an 82-year-old man from Orchard City.
The North Fork’s Mosquito Abatement District had its own troubles. High numbers of West Nile-carrying mosquitoes called into question the effectiveness of the larviciding program, and two members resigned when the rest of board refused to spray. Both the Town of Hotchkiss and the County Fair Board ultimately paid extra to conduct their own spraying. The most common insecticide used in spraying, or fogging, is permethrin, a neurotoxin.
This year, as reported on iseechange, mosquitoes are already coming out, presenting challenges for everyone. Journalist and bookseller Tom Wills is the newest member of the North Fork Mosquito Abatement Board, which he characterizes as a moderate, science-based panel that straddles the gap between the old "spray-every-week" regime and the "nothing-but-larvicide" faction. Although he’s only been on the board for two months, Wills is a veteran of the Hotchkiss Town Council where he served ten years -- and he’s a realist when it comes to politics.
"By mid season I think everyone’s gonna be mad at us," he says "because we’ll do what has to be done. You’re not going to see a truck drive by your house once a week, that isn’t going to happen again. But if you live in Pumpkin Hollow or some place like that – down there along the river, Pumpkin Hollow and the area across from that, Volunteer Park. Those areas will probably get sprayed once or twice. And before major events, you’ll probably see us spray before Cherry Days, and before the County Fair. If West Nile is present, and if the Health Department tells us to do it."
The board has about $100,000 to take care of the mosquitos this year. The amount is set by voters in the district as a percentage of property tax. Two years ago the North Fork voted down an increase, but Wills says the board can’t accomplish its mandate of mitigation without at least another $100,000.
"We do integrated pest management," says Wills. "That’s defined as you start out by doing public information. You tell people, don’t leave your tepid bird bath sitting out there, don’t leave your dog dish for a week at a time, clean your gutters, all that sort of stuff. To farmers – how do they get help to put in drip irrigation instead of flood irrigation. It would be nice to have a fulltime mitigation expert on our staff, that could go and spend all his day working with farmers. Because 99.9 percent of mosquitoes here…most of ‘em come from the field, because we’re an irrigated valley. We could do a really super effective mitigation project. And that’s what we ought to aim at."
Wills is completing a strategic plan. In the meantime, the district has purchased new equipment that allows them to detect West Nile-carrying mosquitoes within 90 minutes, rather than waiting 10 days for a Health Department response.
"And we could send the larvicide guys out the next day (if we find evidence of West Nile-carrying mosquitoes). And that will keep us from saying, Oh my God, that sample was from 10 days ago! That’s where the pressure to spray comes in," says Wills. "Because then you don’t know where it is, so you just spray everywhere."
Culex mosquitoes carry West Nile, but the more common mosquitoes here – Aedes –could carry something just as bad. According to Wills, "Dengue fever’s in southern Texas right now, moved up from Mexico. And that’s one of those things about global warming, climate change, if we get longer seasons and warmer winter and things, we might have Dengue fever here, and we have the vectors to carry that."
"My point is…You can’t just ignore mosquitoes. It’s a health risk, and it’s getting to be a worse health risk. And climate change is a real part of that. We’ll see things that we didn’t see before and we need to be able to deal with them."
For KVNF News, I’m Marty Durlin, emptying my birdbath now.