Update: March 13, 2012

New Report: Fertilizer Polluting Drinking Water in California Ag Regions

A major report from UC Davis detailing nitrate contamination in California’s two leading agricultural regions was released March 13. According to the Washington Post, the study, ordered by the state legislature, shows chemical fertilizers and livestock manure are the main source of nitrate contamination in groundwater for more than 1 million Californians in the Salinas Valley and parts of the Central Valley.

“The problem is much, much, much worse than we thought,” said Angela Schroeter, agricultural regulatory program manager for the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, a state water agency, in an MSNBC article by Stett Holbrook. The report estimates the cost of providing safe water to the communities currently affected at $20- $36 million per year. Nitrate has been linked to blue baby syndrome, thyroid disease, and cancer.

While the report focused on California, nitrates in groundwater is a problem that affects farming communities around the U.S. Concern is growing nationally over the environmental and health impacts of nitrogen pollution, spurred mainly by the use of chemical nitrogen fertilizer, as shown by this recent Science Advisory Board report to the EPA.

Nationally, this year’s expected renewal of the Farm Bill offers opportunities to address nitrogen pollution at its source. The Union of Concerned Scientists is calling for support of Farm Bill programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program. It provides funding to farmers to adopt practices that include the use of cover crops, more complex crop rotations, and perennial crops – which all improve soil health and reduce nitrogen pollution.