Viewpoints: Risks, costs will rise from contamination of drinking water

 By Thomas Harter and Jay Lund - - From biting into a fresh strawberry to enjoying a cold glass of milk, we all reap the economic and gastronomic rewards of California agriculture – a $36.6 billion-a-year industry. Agriculture produces jobs for the state and food for the world. Yet there are costs, particularly when it comes to Californians' access to clean water. A newly released UC Davis study, funded by the State Water Resources Control Board in response to state legislation, concludes that two of California's most productive agricultural regions – the Tulare Lake Basin and Salinas Valley – have a drinking water problem from nitrate contamination. This area includes Salinas, Fresno and Bakersfield, where roughly 2.6 million people rely on groundwater for drinking water. Some of the nitrate is coming from septic tanks and wastewater treatment plants, but our UC Davis researchers concluded that the overwhelming source of nitrate contamination – more than 90 percent – comes from agricultural fertilizers.  The cost of addressing the drinking water issue is much smaller than the value of agriculture in this region. But without a firm state policy, this problem will become harder and more expensive to solve. Reducing the flow of nitrate will slow the rate at which the problem worsens over time, but the drinking water problem must be addressed today.(more) March 13, 2012 Sacramento Bee