Many low income minority communities in California's San Joaquin Valley have nitrate contaminated groundwater as their primary source of drinking water, while farmers in the surrounding area receive fresh clean water from the Bay Delta to irrigate their croplands. Currently, Governor Jerry Brown is creating a plan called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to secure California's water resources while also mitigating the environment degradation in the Bay Delta. The BDCP should include provisions to ensure that these low income minority communities have drinking water systems that give them access to the same clean water that is used to irrigate the surrounding croplands.
The BDCP is Governor Jerry Brown's $24.5 billion plus solution to California's looming water crisis. That is about $650 per Californian. The California Bay Delta is the giant estuary where runoff from the Sierra Nevada Mountains makes its way into the San Francisco Bay. Two thirds of all of Californians rely on water pumped from the Bay Delta for their water supply (California Department of Water Resources 2013). Additionally, water from the Bay Delta is used to irrigate the rich farmlands of California's San Joaquin Valley.
Many people that live and work within the San Joaquin valley are involved in the agricultural industry. However, the these communities that are primarily composed of low income minority residents are suffering from an environmental injustice. While the pristine fresh water runoff from the Sierras is being used to irrigate the farmland, many low-income Latino communities living in the San Joaquin Valley are forced to use groundwater as their primary source of drinking water (Balazs 2011). Due to poor agricultural practices, this groundwater has become contaminated with pollutants.
The farmland contains high levels of nitrate that is used as fertilizer, and the dissolved nitrate percolates down into the groundwater reservoirs. This nitrate contaminated groundwater is then pumped up for use as drinking water. The high levels of nitrate in the water lead to chronic exposure of this pollutant for the communities that drink the groundwater.
The health issues caused by chronic exposure of nitrate contaminated water range from intestinal infections to birth defects. High levels of nitrate in drinking water sources is linked to methemoglobinemia, commonly known as blue baby syndrome, intestinal infections, reproductive toxicity, developmental effects, and various cancers (Balazs 2011).
The social disparity regarding unequal access to quality drinking water in California’s San Joaquin Valley should be addressed in Governor Jerry Brown’s BDCP. The farmers in the San Joaquin Valley enjoy rates as low as $70 per acre foot for their water. In comparison, if that water were sold as bottled water, it would be worth approximately $2.4 million per acre foot (Cline 2001). Because the water is so inexpensive for the farmers, there is little incentive for them to adapt more efficient irrigation techniques. Farmers use about 80% of California’s water, and they only account for about 2% of the state’s income.
The BDCP should incentivize the farmers to use more efficient irrigation techniques while addressing the unequal access to quality drinking water. A reasonable portion of water from the canals that bring water to the farms surrounding the low income minority communities in the San Joaquin Valley should be subtracted from the farmer’s water contracts at a cost equal to or below the price that the regional water districts pay and be sold to the local people for drinking water. This will give the low income communities affordable access to the clean drinking water that they deserve.
Balazs, C.; Morello-Frosch, R.; Hubbard, A.; Ray, I. “Social Disparities in Nitrate-Contaminated Drinking Water in California’s San Joaquin Valley.” Environmental Health Perspectives. September 2011. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3230390/
California’s Department of Water Resources 2013. “Where Rivers Meet the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.” Accessed May 2013. http://www.water.ca.gov/swp/delta.cfm
Cline, H. “$70 or $2.4 million per acre foot?” Western Farm Press. July 2001. http://westernfarmpress.com/70-or-24-million-acre-foot
Slideshow Images obtained at http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/
Sierra Nevada’s – By Clinton Steeds
California Aqueduct – By Omar Omar
Central Valley Satellite Image – By PhillipC
Fertilizer Application – By Eutrophication&Hypoxia
Flood Irrigation – By Jessica Reeder
Farm Runoff – By Eutropication&Hypoxia
Nitrate Contamination – By Ruben Holthuijsen
Farm Worker – By Sarihuella
Farm Water Contamination – By Soil Science
Groundwater Testing – By Sonoran DesertNPS
Glass of Water – By Greg Riegler Photography
San Joaquin River – by Eutrophication&Hypoxia
Rainbow – By Great Valley Center
Music Remix of Just Beginning by Scomber