PALO ALTO (KPIX) — A deadly water mold called Phytophthora (literally, “plant-destroyer”) is threatening to wipe out native California plants.
Local plants have no immunity to the fungus-like organism, which may have hitch-hiked into the state from other countries on infected plants or pots.
Non-profit Grassroots Ecology is battling Phytophthora at their nursery, which provides plants to the Mid-Peninsula Open Space District and the Valley Water District for wildland-restoration projects. Their first line of defense: no one gets to enter the nursery until they’ve cleaned their shoes.
“Alcohol kills the pathogens,” Deanna Giuliano, with Grassroots Ecology, said.
In addition to shoe-cleaning, the nursery in the Palo Alto hills, has taken all plants off the ground to avoid splash contamination and pasteurizes the soil. Hoses and tools are kept off the ground, as well.
“I feel like all these new protocols are helping. I’ve seen a difference in the plants, they look healthier,” Giuliano remarked.
Those protocols are driving up prices. The cost of native plants coming from nurseries like Giuliano’s has doubled.
“Each of the plants in this shade house will eventually be replanted in the wild by the Open Space Preserve but not one of the plants will leave here without first being tested,” Giuliano said.
These efforts aren’t cheap or easy but they’re essential in conquering Phytophthora, according to Cindy Roessler, with the Mid-Peninsula Opens Space District.
“If we go out and put in new native plants in a preserve and they’re diseased, those plants will die but there is also a chance that their roots will spread the disease from those plants into the natural areas around them,” Roessler said.
Recently, the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District located just north of Los Angeles, California, initiated “inspections” of private homes suspected of harboring illegal salt based water softeners. Recalcitrant homeowners who so far have refused to remove their offending water softeners face a $1,000 fine.
In 2008, residents of Santa Clarita voted for a ban on water softeners because they were told that there was too much salt going through the waste treatment facility, more than the amount allowed by state and federal regulators. Residents supported the ban in order to avoid an expensive upgrade of the facility. However, since water softeners only add a miniscule amount of salt to waste water, the Sanitation District is being forced to install a $250 million filtration system after all.
“Salt based water softeners are the best way to treat hard water which contains high levels of calcium and magnesium,” said Morton Satin, Vice President of Science and Research for the Salt Institute. “These scale deposits increase energy costs by reducing the efficiency of dish and clothes washers and causing them to break down and need replacement more often. In addition, research has demonstrated the potential for hard water scale on taps and shower heads to harbor pathogenic bacteria.”
In washing machines, hard water requires the use of more soap and hotter water to achieve the same results. Salt-regenerated water softeners work by running the incoming hard water through a resin filter that traps the calcium and magnesium, as well as any iron, manganese or radium ions in the water and replacing them with sodium ions.
“The irony is that since the district is installing the salt filters anyways, there is zero benefit from banning water softeners. In the end residents will be stuck with hard water, higher energy and appliance costs, and will likely see their taxes increase to pay for the new water treatment system,” said Satin. “This is bad for consumers, taxpayers and the environment, not to mention a gross invasion of privacy.”
The Salt Institute is a North American based non-profit trade association dedicated to advancing the many benefits of salt, particularly to ensure winter roadway safety, quality water and healthy nutrition.