When most people think about California, especially places like Los Molinos and Sacramento, they think about modern cities that enjoy the trappings associated with modern life. The last thing people think about when discussing California is issues with water quality. However, recent reports show that California, like many other states, may have a more significant problem with water quality than previously thought.
Pollutants Affecting the Water in California
It is estimated that over 370,000 California residents use drinking water that could contain high levels of contaminants, including nitrates, arsenic, hexavalent, and chromium. Although all water pollutant issues affect the entire state, they disproportionately affect California’s poor communities.
Rural communities and those that rely on privately owned wells for their domestic and drinking water are especially at risk. Water-testing studies focus on common contaminants. This restriction has led some to believe that an even larger group of people in California could be at risk of consuming water that is not safe.
California Law and Clean Water
In 2012, Assembly Bill 685 mandated that each person in the state of California has the right to drinking water that is affordable, clean, and safe. This law was bolstered by a bill signed into law by Governor Newsom. SB 200, signed in 2019, gave funding to ensure that every community in California and every Californian had clean drinking water.
The California EPA, along with the State Water Resources Control Board, worked in conjunction with The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment to create a tool to evaluate the quality of water, its affordability, and its accessibility throughout the entire state.
The result is the California Human Right to Water (CalHRTW) web tool. This tool looks at three composite scores and measures nine indicators for drinking water quality, affordability, and accessibility in California. Since this tool is online, California residents can also evaluate the water quality in their community. The tool constantly updates itself, allowing people to track how the water quality in their area is changing and see firsthand the implications water contamination has in their community and surrounding communities.
An Increased Need to Protect Clean Water in California
Many community water systems in California do not meet regulatory standards. And many homeowners in rural households drink the water from the tap using unregulated private domestic wells.
Arsenic is naturally in groundwater. However, as the water table becomes depleted, levels of arsenic can concentrate, increasing the danger to those who drink from these water sources. Nitrates found in California groundwater are primarily due to fertilizer runoff and the byproducts of industrial animal farming. Finally, hexavalent chromium is a byproduct of industrial and manufacturing activities.
Of the 370,000 Californians who are thought to have contaminated water supplies, over 40% receive water from domestic wells. This highlights the potentially damaging effect of domestic well water quality for the 1.3 million Californians who have private-use domestic wells.
How Stresses on Groundwater Quality Affects California’s Water Systems
Nearly 80% of California residents use groundwater for at least some drinking water. However, groundwater aquifers are critical to the story in treating water throughout the American West and are vital in ensuring that people in that part of the country have clean water to drink.
When groundwater is contaminated, it must be mixed with cleaner water sources, or water managers must drill wells to access different water sources. Each of these approaches can negatively impact the complex water system, leading to increased costs for clean water for customers in California. The challenge is more significant for small water systems backed by minimal technology and a small customer base. This is because the cost of installing the infrastructure and training water purification operators and maintenance staff is spread among a relatively small group of customers.
The untreated water processed in small and large water systems must be thoroughly checked during the year. Larger water systems can transmit contaminated water to smaller water systems.
The Challenge of Unregulated Contaminants in California’s Groundwater
The Safe Drinking Water Act ensures that most contaminants in California’s water are regulated. As new chemicals are found in the environment, California is increasing what they monitor.
However, there is one category of chemicals that continues to be unregulated. These are the PFAS (per – and poly-fluoroalkyl substances). These man-made chemicals are used when creating water-resistant or heat-resistant materials. Because of their durability, they are often called “forever chemicals.”
As these chemicals are becoming more prominent in the public eye, people understand the adverse effects these chemicals have on people’s health. They are also realizing how persistent and how present these chemicals are not only in California’s water but also in the environment.
California does monitor PFAS. However, they are not regulated on the federal or state level. If these chemicals are very high, local government bodies are notified. In 2019, one-third of PFOS/PFOA chemicals in the PFAS family exceeded the notification level. Interestingly, these high measurements are not limited to certain geographic areas but are seen throughout the state.
As more research is done on how PFAS impact people, the federal EPA or the California EPA may require water systems to have treatment systems designed to eliminate these so-called “forever chemicals” from the water.
The Impact of Pesticides and Nutrients in California’s Waterways
The most common pollutants in California’s waterways are metals, nutrients, pesticides, and fecal indicator bacteria. However, unlike PFAS seen throughout the state, pesticides are found mostly in the Imperial Valley, Central Valley, and Central Coast. The highest percentage of nutrient contamination is seen in the Pajaro, Klamath River basin, and Aliso-San Onofre.
A lot of the groundwater and surface water in California is facing some level of contamination. Some of the contamination occurs naturally, while other water contamination results from human interference.
The consequences of contaminated water in California include damaged environmental systems and a threat to the health of the state’s residents. Monitoring is essential to understanding the severity of water contamination. It makes it possible for the public and government regulators to identify and prioritize water sources that require improvement.
All in all, California’s drinking water is safe despite widespread pollution. However, regulatory entities in California must remain vigilant if they are to stay up to the task of providing safe water and a price that California residents can afford.
Providing Comprehensive Services to Northern California Residents
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Our services include HVAC installation, maintenance, and repair. We install heating pumps and offer comprehensive plumbing repair, installation, and maintenance services. We also provide air quality services and duct cleaning. Contact Gallagher's Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning in Sacramento today and see what it’s like to work with a team that keeps your best interests in mind and is constantly working to earn your trust.