Several years ago, California farmers, including many in the Valley, began receiving threatening letters from the State Water Resources Control Board.
The demand? Provide clean drinking water to local residents with nitrate contaminated private wells or face punitive legal action.
The logic? Years of fertilizer application by farmers led to excess nitrates in the drinking water supply for some residents in California’s agricultural regions, including our Tulare Lake Basin.
Farming requires the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers, whether synthetic or organic, to replenish soil nutrients to ensure healthy crops. For more than half a century, farmers have relied on the guidance of the government and research universities to determine best fertilizer application practices.
Today, as farmers and researchers better understand the impact of fertilizers on groundwater quality, agricultural methods have evolved – including precision fertilizer application – significantly reducing the potential for nitrate contamination.
Furthermore, the risks associated with groundwater contamination in California’s disadvantaged communities are far larger than nitrates, which account for just 25 percent of the problem. Other, more hazardous contaminants include Chromium-6, arsenic and other toxins that are industrial pollutants and not caused by agriculture.
Such a complex problem as providing clean, reliable drinking water for all Californians requires a holistic solution, not one that pins the tail on farmers.
The agriculture industry has been engaged with environmental justice organizations and other stakeholders in a multi-year process to help solve the state’s drinking water crisis, including addressing nitrate contamination of groundwater supplies. This process has resulted in widely-supported legislative language contained in Governor Brown’s Budget Trailer Bill.
The Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Act proposes a modest fee that will be assessed on agriculture and urban and commercial water users to provide replacement drinking water for disadvantaged communities statewide and ensure that all Californians have access to safe and affordable drinking water.
The Budget Trailer Bill works to equitably assign the financial burden of addressing California’s drinking water crisis and shield our farmers from unfair enforcement actions by the State Water Resources Control Board.
Kern County is the most agriculturally productive county in the U.S. Agriculture generates one in three local jobs. Addressing the state’s drinking water crisis while protecting farming is critically important to the well-being of our local economy.
The Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce, Kern County Farm Bureau and other local leaders, businesses and organizations have all signed letters of support for the Budget Trailer Bill. We appreciate the leadership of Senator Andy Vidak on this important issue and urge support from our Assemblymen Rudy Salas and Vince Fong, and state Sen. Jean Fuller.
We ask for their vote when the bill comes before their respective houses.
Nicholas Ortiz is president and CEO of the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce. Beatris Sanders is Executive Director of the Kern County Farm Bureau. The opinions expressed are their own.