Drinking water for more than 370,000 Californians is contaminated with arsenic, nitrate, and other chemicals, according to an extensive analysis by researchers at UC Berkeley and UCLA. In many cases, the state’s agricultural industry is to blame.
The study also found that water contamination disproportionately affects communities of color — particularly Latino communities — and researchers warned that their results likely underestimate the extent of the problem. Researchers also released an interactive drinking water tool that Californians can use to research their community’s water quality and hold local representatives accountable.
“I think a lot of people might be surprised to learn that, given how wealthy the state of California is, we still don’t have universal access to clean drinking water,” said Lara Cushing, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at UCLA and a senior coauthor of the study.
The report is the first comprehensive analysis of California’s water quality and the first to focus on demographic disparities. Researchers collaborated closely with the California Environmental Protection Agency, and the Community Water Center, which is a nonprofit that works for safe drinking water in farmworker areas. Their work was recently published by the American Journal of Public Health.
California law makes access to affordable and clean drinking water a human right. Federal law also requires that community water systems be tested for contaminants regularly. But according to the study’s authors, about 10% of California’s public drinking water systems are out of compliance with the state’s standards, and many water systems don’t meet federal standards either.
Meanwhile, many rural Californians aren’t connected to community water systems at all. Instead, they rely upon private domestic wells that are not regulated and that, as researchers discovered, are more susceptible to contamination. While less than 4 percent of Californians draw their water from domestic wells for water, more than 40% of the 370,000 Californians affected by contaminated drinking-water have resorted to such wells.
The study analyzed three common contaminants — arsenic, nitrate, and hexavalent chromium — though researchers noted there were many more they could have included. Two of the three contaminants are connected to California’s agricultural sector. While arsenic occurs naturally in groundwater, it can become concentrated when the water table is depleted; as California’s drought continues, Central Valley farmers have been overpumping groundwater, which can increase arsenic levels in local water supplies. Agribusiness is also affected by nitrate contamination, which can be the result of fertilizer runoff or industrial animal farming.
Hexavalentchromium is a byproduct from industrial and manufacturing activities that involve metal plating or wood treatment. All three contaminants pose serious risks to your health and can increase your risk of other illnesses and cancer.
The authors noted that safeguarding California’s drinking water will only become more urgent as climate change and prolonged drought put additional stress on the state’s water system.
Source: Successful Farming