If you live in California and have ever thought “this water tastes like crap,” you may not be wrong. Literally.
According to a recent study out of the University of California-Davis, nitrate contamination of drinking water has become a serious problem in California. The main sources of this contamination come from chemical fertilizers and animal manure, and the contamination is predominately located in Salinas Valley and parts of Central Valley, effecting over 1 million residents. The study covered Salinas and Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Kern counties with a total population of 2.6 million.
While it's not news that nitrates are a problem in drinking water for this region, this is the first time a report has provided the data that identifies the extent of the contamination and subsequent solutions and costs to rectify the problem.
“In the near future, this problem is going to persist and is likely to get worse,” Thomas Harter of UC-Davis concluded. The reason this contamination is so dangerous is because elevated nitrates have been linked to reproductive disorders, ‘blue baby syndrome’ and various types of cancer.
Sadly there are quite a few small, poor agricultural communities in the effected areas that have to use the contaminated groundwater as other sources and options are too expensive. Some residents, already forced to spend $60 a month on contaminated water, spend almost the same amount on bottled water. Certainly a burden not welcome in hard economic times.
The study concludes that by 2050, nearly 80% of the population of the aforementioned area could have nitrate contamination exceeding the state standard.
One of the proposed solutions to this problem would be a fertilizer tax to be used by affected communities. That'll probably go over like a lead balloon.
Another is having the poorer communities get assistance from regional and state water boards in the form of funding, legal and technical support for solutions. Still not a very realistic or long-term solution.
Regardless of the method, combating the present nitrate levels will cost the state $20-35 million a year, according to the study.
The biggest problem in combating the nitrate levels is the reality of farming (responsible for 96% of groundwater contamination) in the area. While fertilizer levels are down, dairy manure rates are up. Nitrates take a lot of time to completely migrate from areas, meaning the contamination will increase in the future.
The situation is not hopeless, but it is dire.