War on weeds to be won with water

City officials are looking to enlist some hot help in fighting a war being waged on sidewalks in the pesticide-free era.

Weeds are growing in the cracks on sidewalks across Richmond, a city whose council banned the use of cosmetic pesticides five years ago, and a contractor capable of using lethal—but eco-friendly—force against them is being sought.

A request for expressions of interest issued last Friday lays out the city’s plan: hire a contractor for “hot water treatments” on sidewalks and medians and give them a “weed free appearance” throughout the growing season of May 1 to Oct. 1.

Scalding unwanted greenery is a back-to-basics weed control method that uses simply high-temperature water, not toxins, to kill roots. Some firms use hand-held pressurized sprayers, while others, such as the Netherlands-based firm WAVE, use drivable machines.

City spokesperson Ted Townsend said Richmond has long had a weed control program for sidewalks. The Roundup herbicide was previously the weed killer of choice, but city council’s bylaw forced officials to experiment with new control measures.

“We had been doing weed whacking, but the weed whacking is almost constant. You no sooner finish and it’s time to start over again,” said Townsend, adding noise, pollution and collateral rock damage offered further incentives to try something new.

Experiments with hot water proved effective last year, prompting an expansion of the program in 2014. Townsend said Richmond is contracting out the task due to limited equipment and a contractor’s flexibility to work at night when there’s less traffic.

Once a contractor is picked and dispatched, curbs, sidewalks, brick pavers, medians, traffic islands and tree circles will all become targets.

Last year the city budgeted $113,000 for sidewalk weed control.

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