In his final week in office, Gov. Deval Patrick signed legislation on Jan. 2 to allow municipal employees to apply larvicides in catch basins to control the spread of mosquito-borne viruses such as West Nile.

The law returns to municipal public works employees and seasonal workers the authority to apply relatively non-toxic pesticides into storm drains and catch basins to control Culex mosquitoes, which can carry West Nile Virus. Public works employees were authorized to use pesticides in this manner between 2001 and 2009, but in 2010 the Department of Agricultural Resources opted not to renew that authorization, leaving licensed professional pesticide applicators as the only ones authorized to apply the pesticides.

The legislation takes effect immediately, allowing municipalities to begin planning treatments for the 2015 mosquito season.

“It is critically important that our communities have the tools needed to proactively combat the spread of serious diseases like West Nile Virus,” said Sen. Jason Lewis of Winchester, a sponsor of the bill. “This legislation returns to municipal officials the authority to use the tools at their disposal to safeguard the public health for residents of our cities and towns.”

With a surge in cases of West Nile Virus in recent years, public health advocates and municipal officials have been calling for the restoration of this policy.

“Thanks to Sen. Lewis and his colleagues in the Legislature, communities now have the authority and ability to effectively reduce the spread of and exposure to West Nile Virus,” said MMA Executive Director Geoff Beckwith. “Simply put, this new law will save lives every year.”