Fix for California trailer park reflects uranium problem

by Ellen Knickmeyer, originally posted on May 3, 2016


California regulators approved a $3.2 million grant Tuesday to bring safe water to a California trailer park where three dozen households for years have been provided with tap water containing dangerous levels of uranium.

The grant from the California Water Resources Control Board will pay to install lines from a new well in a nearby town to the Double L Mobile Ranch Park outside Fresno, in the agriculturally rich Central Valley.

One in 10 public water systems and up to one in four private wells in some areas of the Central Valley now have raw water with unsafe levels of uranium, officials say.

“Uranium contamination is a fact and is a challenge, a gigantic challenge. There is no question about that,” said Frances Spivey-Weber, vice chairwoman of the water board.

The Double L Mobile Ranch Park was highlighted in a 2015 article by The Associated Press looking at the growing problem of uranium in the water of California’s farming heartland.

U.S. Geological Survey researchers believe irrigation is responsible for slowly rising levels of naturally occurring uranium in underground water supplies.

Uranium can damage kidneys and raise cancer risks if consumed long-term at concentrations above federal and state limits for drinking water.

The AP found that the mostly Spanish-speaking farm workers at the mobile home park had little understanding of the English-language warnings required by law about the tainted water. Some poorer families at the park had been drinking the tainted water for years, the AP found.

More broadly, the AP found public water systems ranging from mid-size cities to rural schools dealing with uranium-contaminated water in the Central Valley. Families using private wells, meanwhile, said they had no warning of the possible threat, and little if any aid was available to test or treat private wells for uranium contamination.

Voters’ 2014 passage of a $7.5 billion water bond means the state can now do more community outreach on water problems, including providing information in Spanish, said Jule Rizzardo, a supervising water engineer at the state water board.

Spivey-Weber, the board vice chairwoman, cited the more than $80,000-per-household cost of fixing the mobile home park’s drinking-water.

Contamination of groundwater in the West with substances ranging from nitrates to uranium is a growing concern, to the point the state can’t afford to rely on one-off fixes like the Double L is getting, she said.

“So we really need to have a sense of how big the problem is, and where it is,” Spivey-Weber said. “We need to get a fix on this so we can start to prioritize.”

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