What is in this article?:
- In California, 250,000 people are at risk from nitrate contamination in their drinking water.
- A recent study said 96 percent of the nitrates in groundwater are traceable to agriculture.
- It is not surprising that the California groundwater nitrate issue was not just deposited on agriculture’s doorstep, it was heaped on agriculture’s back for blame and draconian mitigation recommendations to be paid for by agriculture.
- “With UN 32 at $442 per ton, I don’t think farmers are going to waste a lot of N,” said Kern County, Calif. pest control adviser Vern Crawford.
One of the other contentions challenged was that the majority of the private wells in the study area are not tested. Public drinking water wells are tested by law.
“Guess we are just a bunch of dumb farmers,” Barcellos said after the meeting in reacting to the contention farmers do not test well water. Farmers test wells, Barcellos said, for not just nitrate levels, but other minerals as well because they can impact crops. It is common knowledge that minerals like boron in well water can have a major impact on almond production. How would a farmer determine boron levels if they do not test the water? “Wells in the Hanford area are known to be high in sulfur. How do farmers know that if they do not have the water analyzed,” he said.
Wells are also tested for nitrates, and those numbers are plugged into fertilizer management programs.
There is a large area of Kern County around Shafter, Calif., where water is very high in nitrates, yet very little nitrogen is applied, said Crawford. The nitrates apparently come from foothill sediments.
“We drink the water in this valley, and our families drink this water,” says Barcellos, acknowledging that finding a solution to the nitrate issue is important to farmers, too. However, he urged researchers, legislators and regulators to be “patient” in mitigating the issue.
“This has been years in the making. Let’s think this through and not come up with a bunch of expensive mandates,” he said.
According to the study, it would cost up to a prohibitive $30 billion to clean up groundwater. Therefore, study writers say the way to solve the problem is to regulate it with water and fertilizer use fees and mandated management practices.
“I hate fees. I spend 40 percent of my time as a supervisor fighting fees and regulations. All the fees collected today wind up in the general fund,” he says. That is thievery, he contends, and “we need to put some of these guys in jail for stealing.”
Water is the key factor in the leaching process, and there are several agencies overseeing its use. Study authors suggest attacking the nitrate issue by coordinating it through the various agencies regulating water. There was also a notion to create a water use/quality agency like the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to oversee groundwater use.
(For more, see: What’s next for California groundwater?)
Lund attempted to mollify farmers and others in the room by saying that it will cost more to “fix the Delta” than to mitigate the nitrate in wells, and farmers should be glad they are not in Iowa, implying the groundwater nitrate issue is much worse there than in California.
That was little appeasement, since everyone seemed ready to go home.