State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Cleveland, plans to propose legislation in January that would regulate aquatic herbicide use in Tennessee, requiring users to fulfill a notice requirement before spraying the substance designed to kill vegetation.
The move has long been called for by fishermen and other outdoor organizations but feared by waterside homeowners, who use herbicides to keep boat ramps clear of water weeds. There is almost no regulation on where private citizens can have the chemicals sprayed, as long as they hire a licensed applier.
"I do think there are gaps in the current regulation," Bell said. "I don't think anybody wants to ban the use of herbicides, but I do think the current law has gaps that need to be filled."
The legislation would put in place a system to better track and manage who is spraying herbicides, how much is being sprayed and where that occurs. The system would provide leaders crucial information about the chemicals going into the water and give the public a better understanding of herbicide use.
Bell compared the current free-for-all that is herbicide use to someone "putting on a backpack full of Roundup and going up to Fall Creek Falls" to spray.
A research analyst will meet with Bell and others to gather more information in coming weeks. Bell expects to draft legislation and introduce it in January, he said. In the meantime, he wants to continue gathering information from both sides of the issue.
The news comes on the heels of a one-time aquatic spraying committee meeting held Nov. 15 by Bell and state Sens. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, and Ken Yager, R-Kingston. The three heard presentations from five people in the fishing and herbicide industries. The presenters provided information both on why herbicides are necessary and why too much herbicide use can be a problem - with some discussing both sides of the issue.
The general consensus was that some herbicide use is necessary to manage invasive species and keep water access areas clear for boaters, but that too much herbicide use can harm the aquatic ecosystem.
"We think people should have the right to know what, where and when herbicide is being applied to public waters," said Tennessee Wildlife Federation Executive Director Michael Butler, who spoke during the committee meeting. "We do think these herbicides are important tools to manage invasive aquatic weeds. We're not saying don't spray; we're saying we need to know what's being sprayed."
Bell has worked closely with new state House Rep. Robin Smith, R-Chattanooga, whose District 26 seat encompasses many waterfront properties. Smith had been hearing concerns from residents that the aquatic spraying study committee members were trying to ban herbicide use, which isn't true.
"As things happen in the yin and yang of life, property owners are hearing part of the message that there's an effort trying to eliminate herbicides. That's not true," Smith said. " There's legitimate concerns on both sides, but where we stand right now, there's no bill, so this is the perfect time to get things out there so people can heighten their awareness and get the facts."