News Feature | December 6, 2013

EPA Chief: Water Quality In California Valley Is 'Unacceptable'

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


Water quality in California's San Joaquin Valley is becoming a high-priority problem for the EPA.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy recently said the quality levels are "unacceptable," according to the Fresno Bee

The newspaper reported that McCarthy is keeping a close eye on federal dollars marked for clean water projects, and said that "people shouldn't have to wait years for money that's already available for fixes."

Problems with water quality in the valley have been publicized for years, but towns remain without sufficient funds to adequately address them. 

The Bee previously reported that the state's department of public health has received criticism "for bureaucratic bottlenecks in getting funding to the towns, many of which have waited years for help."

Water systems in Monson, Cutler, Orosi, Seville and Sultana have all struggled with high levels of nitrates in the water. 

For instance, the Monson Market well "has nitrate concentrations nearly three times the safe level. Three years ago, tests on private wells in the area also showed unhealthy levels of bacteria and a now-banned pesticide called DBCP," the report said. 

McCarthy pointed to the EPA's work to help the area, including efforts by the agency's office for that region, the Bee said. 

"The regional office in spring scolded the California Department of Public Health for not spending $455 million of federal money aimed at fixing drinking water systems. People in small, poor Valley towns, such as Orosi, Lanare and Kettleman City, have been forced to buy bottled water as they wait for the state to spend the federal money," the report said. 

The "scolding" from authorities produced results. 

"The department said it would quickly dole out $84 million of the $455 million of unspent drinking-water reserves this year," the report said. 

More money is coming. "As more federal money flows into the state, the department expects to disburse more than $800 million over the next few years, four times what it has given out over similar periods in the past," the Bee said. 

The EPA has promised to keep watching the situation. "Our patience has run out," regional administrator Jared Blumenfeld told the Bee

San Joaquin Valley towns struggle not only with quality, but also scarcity. 

The Merced Sun-Star reported last month that groundwater reserves "are shrinking by 800 billion gallons per year in the central valley."

Some voices say the valley needs stronger groundwater protections.

"A growing cadre of hydrologists and scientists [is] calling for more government control over how much water gets pumped out of the ground," the report said. 

Some state lawmakers are on board. They "have started drafting plans for how the government can protect California’s water basins," the report said.

For more on California water issues, including a fleet of new state policies, visit Water Online. 

Image credit: "100103 - San Joaquin Valley Air Inversion (Picnik Fix)," © 2010 niiicedave, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license:

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