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In 1996, the Talent Irrigation District in Oregon set out to kill off aquatic weeds in irrigation canals by spraying herbicides in the water. But in addition to a lot of dead weeds, it got a lot of dead fish—92,000 steelhead salmon. Since then, legal battles have raged over how the government should regulate pesticides used on or near waterways.
On Tuesday, pesticide users marked a possibly major victory in that battle, as a bill that would allow them to bypass the Clean Water Act and spray pesticides over waterways passed through the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.
Currently, once a pesticide has been deemed safe by the EPA, there's nothing to compel users of the pesticide to follow guidelines in the Clean Water Act for minimizing how much pesticide makes it into streams, lakes, or other water bodies. But in the long wake of the Talent incident, in 2009 a federal court ordered the EPA to require pesticide users to get a permit before they could spray into water.