Polluted water is poisoning Californians

Thirsty? In the Central Valley? Spring for the bottled water.

It may be the safest drinking choice for central Californians, whose groundwater has been contaminated with fertilizer and animal manure.

Nearly ten percent of the 2.6 million folks living in agricultural areas of the Central and Salinas Valleys may be drinking nitrate-contaminated water, according to a study from UC Davis released on Tuesday.

The study predicts the rate of those affected may increase to 80 percent if nothing is done by 2050. Gulp.

If the problem isn’t addressed, we are going to have a very serious issue in California, said Angela Schroeter, agricultural regulatory program manager for state water agency Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board:

“The problem is much, much, much worse than we thought.”

That’s three much’s, guys.

High nitrate levels in drinking water are known to cause skin rashes, hair loss, birth defect and “blue baby syndrome,” a blood disorder that is potentially fatal in infants.

Sonia Lopez of San Jerardo, a farmworker cooperative southeast of Salinas, knows first-hand of the horrors nitrate poisoning can cause. About nine years ago, her skin became itchy. Her hair fell out. Her eyes burned. And she wasn’t the only one.

“I got very concerned because some of the residents started passing away from cancers,” she said. “People were dying, and we didn’t know who was going to be next.”

Farming alternatives are being discussed, but options are costly and not technologically feasible, said the study. Water treatment and alternative supplies can cost ratepayers up to $36 million per year.

Nitrate contamination is a well-known problem in agricultural areas, and the current contamination most likely comes from years of pollution. That means even if we take action now, the groundwater still won’t be completely safe for decades to come.

Lopez warned the issue will continue to spread:

“Our problem is going to be your problem. It’s everyone’s problem. There are solutions, but we need the people in charge of our communities to do something about it.”