Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In rural California, nitrate pollutes tap water One in 10 people living in California’s most productive agricultural areas is at risk of exposure to harmful nitrate levels in drinking water.

A new report, Addressing Nitrate in California’s Drinking Water, is the first comprehensive scientific investigation of nitrate contamination in the Tulare Lake Basin, which includes Fresno and Bakersfield, and the Salinas Valley, which includes Salinas and areas near Monterey. It defines the extent of the problem, suggests promising solutions, and outlines possible funding mechanisms.

“Cleaning up nitrate in groundwater is a complex problem with no single solution,” says Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis, and a report co-author. “This report should help inform discussions among people involved with drinking water, waste discharge, and agricultural issues, including various local and state government agencies.”

“California groundwater quality is a significant concern to the Water Boards, and this comprehensive report presents current science and potential solutions on how to deal with this chronic and longstanding issue,” says Thomas Howard, executive director of the California State Water Board.

Nitrogen in organic and synthetic fertilizers has dramatically increased crop production in California in recent decades. However, excess nitrate in groundwater from surface nitrogen use has been linked to thyroid illnesses, some cancers, and reproductive problems.

In the new report, scientists examine data from wastewater treatment plants, septic systems, parks, lawns, golf courses, and farms. The report concludes that more than 90 percent of human-generated nitrate contamination of groundwater in these basins is from agricultural activity...

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