The drinking water in California’s Central Valley has degraded due to contamination from nitrates in fertilizer and animal manure, according to a study released on March 13 by University of California, Davis, (UC Davis).
The study found that possible 10 percent of the several million people living in the Tulare Lake Basin and Salinas Valley are drinking water contaminated with nitrates. It warned that if the problem persists, four out of five residents could suffer long-term health effects and financial problems in the next 40 years.
California’s Central Valley is one of the major agricultural hubs in the U.S., producing a wide variety of crops. It also has an intensive dairy and poultry industry. The nitrogen in organic and synthetic fertilizers has increased crop production in California in the past several decades. Fertilizers contribute around 90 percent of the total nitrates found in drinking water, according to the report.
High levels of nitrates have been linked to birth defects, rashes, hair loss, blood disorders in infants, and thyroid cancer.
“Cleaning up nitrate in groundwater is a complex problem with no single solution,” said Jay Lund, director of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, who co-authored the study.
The study’s authors found that the nitrates resulting from crop production are “only now beginning to affect water quality in the Tulare Lake Basin and Monterey County portion of the Salinas Valley,” according to a release from U.C. Davis. “Today’s discharges will continue to contaminate drinking water decades from now.”
Sonia Lopez, a local from San Jerardo, told MSNBC that she started getting rashes, her eyes burned, and her hair started falling out around nine years ago. Her family and some neighbors she knew had similar symptoms.
“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.”
Cleaning up the drinking water could cost between $20 million and $35 million per year for the next several decades, the study found. It said that there is no singular or simple solution in fixing the problem and directly removing nitrates from the groundwater reservoirs is too costly and not possible.If nothing is done, the nitrates will spread further more and cost taxpayers living in the communities even more, researchers said. They suggested improving on managing fertilizers and some water treatment but cautioned that the “costs range from modest to quite expensive.”