The cost of clean water

Water that is safe to drink, straight from the kitchen tap, is more of a luxury than we realize.
There are many places around the world where access to safe drinking water is either nonexistent, or only available for a high price.
But did you know that six million of your fellow Californians are also forced to drink out of plastic bottles?
One of the most serious water quality offenders in California is nitrate, which causes serious health problems for children and pregnant women and is associated with certain cancers.
A recent multiyear study at UC Davis estimated that 550,000 tons of nitrogen fertilizer, 240,000 tons of manure nitrogen, and 4,000 tons of urban and food processing waste effluent nitrogen “are annually applied to or recycled in Central Valley agricultural lands for food production.” Some of the nitrate in these sources leaches to groundwater.
Back in 2012, when the state started really looking into it, another report from UC Davis, this time addressing regulatory options, stated, “Current regulatory programs have not effectively controlled groundwater nitrate contamination, and water quality in these areas has largely worsened for decades, a trend which seems likely to continue.
The resulting massive “Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program,” with its extensive monitoring and reporting, doesn’t have a lot of friends in farming country, and I think may be completely unknown in urban circles.
With six million acres of irrigated farmland enrolled in the program, farmers are paying well over $22 million dollars a year, and the costs are rising annually.
Organic farmers, using fertilizers that are much less water-soluble than those used in conventional agriculture, know that their best management practices contribute significantly less to the problem, but the state’s program paints all farmers with the same broad brush.
A regulatory approach that rewarded good practices would be a good idea.

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