Heading into the rainy season, Edmonton's new natural approach to managing mosquitoes is getting scrutiny from some city council members on its cost, direction and likelihood of being effective.
In April, council agreed to redirect $507,000 from the aerial spraying program toward developing biological pest control measures and an education campaign.
The city will continue to spray pesticides by hand on the ground in areas like ditches to kill mosquitoes this season.
On Monday, council's community and public services committee analyzed the breakdown of the revamped program, which includes buying and installing mosquito traps and houses for bats, as well as monitoring and surveillance of the new tools.
Coun. Tim Cartmell is skeptical about whether the biological applications will work this year.
Cartmell voted against the council motion to halt the aerial spraying and adopt natural deterrents in April.
"I think there might be a curve and I hope I'm wrong and I stand to be corrected," Cartmell told reporters Monday. "But I think we could be in for some rather miserable summers, without doing some of this work."
He said there are too many unknown elements and outcomes.
"Monitoring and understanding will help — I guess — put bat boxes and mosquito traps in better places," he said. "I sure wish we had done the study beforehand, rather than cancel our treatments and then try to figure out if we did the right thing after the fact."
The monitoring and surveillance portion of the program costs $387,436, which includes buying mosquito traps, digital tablets for fieldwork, paying staff, and leasing trucks.
Biological control activities, including filling in larvae sites and installing bat houses is estimated to cost $65,000.
Communications and education, such as digital advertising and social media costs $45,000.
The revamped program doesn't use the total $507,000 this year, but sets aside some for cost escalations and program fluctuations, the report says.
Coun. Erin Rutherford was looking for further explanation Monday, especially for the monitoring aspect of the program.
"That is a really big budget item," Rutherford said during the meeting. "Why the need for monitoring?"
Craig McKeown, branch manager of parks and roads services, said the city needs a long-term monitoring system to measure changes to the program and impacts on the ecosystem.
"There is a bit of a paradigm shift," he replied. "To measure biodiversity and the complexity behind it, things like bird species and other insect species at a broader landscape scale, you need capacity to pull the appropriate data."
Push for pesticide-free
Critics say bird populations have dwindled because of pesticides.
Several people from Pesticide Free Edmonton joined the meeting to make the case for getting rid of the practice — historically, Edmonton has used Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (BTI) to kill mosquitoes.
Mark Stumpf-Allen, an environmental educator and a former composting program coordinator with the City of Edmonton, urged councillors to start leaning more toward restoring depleted ecosystems, which will require time and effort.
"These complexities — not killing — should be addressed in this educational strategy," Stumpf-Allen said. "We can learn a lot when we stop fighting what we can't control and make nature an ally and choose to learn from it."
Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said he's worried about the potential public perception that the city isn't investing in mosquito control.
"My concern is while we're focusing on the long-term we may end up actually creating situations where there'll be pushback from citizens if we see a spike," Sohi said.
Coun. Keren Tang said she supports the new program and questioned how effective the seasonal pesticide spray was.
"How big of a difference would it really make?" Tang said. "It's a rainy season, we're going to get a lot of mosquitoes."