News Feature | December 25, 2013

Decade-Long Fight Against Toxic Water Continues In California County

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

Mustard

Tulare County, CA, is closing in on a decade battling toxic water. And the situation is as hopeless as ever. 

The central California community "has dealt with nitrate levels above the national standard intermittently for nine years," according to Fusion Media Network.

The contaminant can cause “blue baby syndrome,” the report said, "a condition that can result in sudden infant deaths, as well as some kinds of cancer, skin rashes, and birth defects."

Clean water is far from the norm in Tulare County.

"A 2012 study by UC-Davis researchers found that one in 10 people in the valley are at risk of drinking water with unsafe nitrate levels, and that about 1.3 million people in the Central Valley face increased cost because they must buy drinking water," the Fusion news report said. 

About 1.36 million people in the area may be using tainted groundwater, Fusion reported, citing government data.

High Country News described the population in the area. Referring to the valley town Seville, CA, the report said that "the vast majority of the town's 500 residents are Latinos, and most toil for meager wages in Tulare County's vast nut, olive, and citrus orchards."

Part of the problem is the town's drinking water moves through a "primitive system" composed of "wells punched into the intensively cultivated land around town." 

The report gave a description of the system: "A white PVC pipe runs down the middle of an irrigation canal, which carries three or four inches of water. The pipe -- actually many pipes, loosely connected by plastic couplings -- is the town's water main," the report said. 

It means residents end up with dirty water: "When the canal is full, the pipe is submerged, and when pressure is low (usually in the summer, when people use lots of water), canal water can seep in through loose connections, carrying sand and other debris. A neighbor says a small tadpole once wriggled out of her kitchen tap. In the canal's shallow water, beside the main, the carcass of a dog slumps in a grisly state of putrefaction."

"Lots of tourists come through here on their way to Sequoia National Park," one woman said in the piece. "They stop to eat in the café. I bet they wouldn't, if they knew what was in the water."

Image credit: "mustard," © 2007 Slideshow Bruce, used under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

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