Drought & Groundwater Contamination in California

By Rachel Roberts

1344175_84470407California is now entering its 4th year of drought.  The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides almost a third of the state’s water, is nearly 88% below normal. The state’s Board of Water has been collecting and publicizing water-usage numbers as part of a water conservation campaign.

State officials reported that in December, residents decreased their overall water consumption by 22%. Despite this decline in water consumption, California would still need 11 trillion gallons of water in storage to recover from the drought.

What the state failed to publicize however was the quality of water remaining in California. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that since 1983, state regulators have allowed oil companies to drill more than 170 waste-disposal wells into aquifers used for drinking and irrigation.

348326_1629The Chronicle placed some of the blame for allowing companies to drill these misplaced waste-disposal wells on inaccurate record keeping and conflicting documents regarding which aquifers are be protected.

Dan Jacobson, the director of the lobbying group Environmental California, said in a statement to the Huffington Post, “Put simply, California regulators are not up to the task of managing safe wastewater disposal and cede residents’ safety and health to oil and gas production.”

Although state officials have reported there has been no sign of contamination in the aquifers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is requiring California to address the problem and prevent its reoccurrence.

Most of the drilling occurred in California’s Central Valley. Unlike many urban communities, those who live in more rural areas, such as the Central Valley, rely on underground aquifers and wells for their water supply. Due to the drought, groundwater supplies are becoming increasingly limited. According to the Huffington Post, at one point, residents in this area relied primarily on bottled water.

1154932_42987417California farmers are responsible for producing over half of the country’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts. As the drought persists, farmers are beginning to use an increasing amount of groundwater—some of which could be potentially contaminated.

The EPA is threatening to take back control of regulating waste-injection wells—a job that California officials have performed for the past 30 years. Jared Blumenfeld, the regional administrator for the EPA, said on the matter, “If there are wells having a direct impact on drinking water, we need to shut them down now… Safe drinking water is only going to become more in demand.”







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