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Safe Drinking Water is Holiday Wish for Some CA Communities

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 By Lori AbbottContact
December 22, 2011

Safe drinking water is at the top of the holiday wish list for some Californians. For years, residents of Seville and other San Joaquin Valley communities have been forced to buy bottled water because their tap water is polluted with nitrate - a clear, odorless compound that has been linked to cancer. Juliette de Campos, policy advocate with the Community Water Center (CWC) says residents are spending more than 10 percent of their income on bottled drinking water, as well as paying their monthly water bill.

The CWC is suggesting that fines levied on polluters go directly to pay for nitrate treatment systems, as well as for installing home water filters or creating a free community water-vending site.

"It won't provide the infrastructure that's necessary to protect local communities from pollution. For that we need deeper wells and blending facilities and new pipes - and we're working on that - but this is practical relief for low-income communities."

A recent Central Valley Water Board study found that nitrates from chemical nitrogen fertilizer appear to be contaminating local water supplies near Seville. After it's applied to crops, the fertilizer is leached by irrigation water into local wells. Across the San Joaquin Valley, manure from livestock operations such as dairies also leaches nitrate to groundwater.

De Campus says nitrate contamination is the number-one reason for well closures throughout California, and it's increasing.

"At the end of the day, this is a preventable problem, and we can fix it. It's a lot cheaper to prevent nitrates from getting into our water supplies than to pay to clean them up afterward, which places an enormous economic burden on all Californians."

The long-term solution, de Campos says, is to work with agriculture interests to implement farm practices that reduce nitrates from both fertilizer and livestock manure, and keep the pollutants out of the state's drinking water.

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