News Release: Feb 20, 2013 Contact: Laurel Firestone 559-789-7245 Jennifer Clary 707-483-6352 Maria Herrera 559-859-3326 State Water Board recommends ag fertilizer fee Advocates praise action to reduce nitrate contamination in state’s drinking water Clean water advocates praised the California Water Board’s recommendations released today that identify the critical need for a “secure and stable” source of funding to assist communities impacted by nitrate contamination. The advocates were more direct, pointing at the Water Board’s suggestion of a statewide fertilizer fee. “A fertilizer fee will fund efforts to provide safe drinking water to communities affected now and keep state taxpayers from bearing even more cleanup costs down the road,” said Laurel Firestone, Co-Executive Director of the Community Water Center. The recommendations can be viewed here. A February 4, 2013 State Water Board report ranked nitrate contamination as the most common manmade contaminant in the state’s community water systems and the top reason for well closure. And a UC Davis report released last year found that nitrate contamination from fertilizer runoff on farms has polluted the drinking water for a quarter million people in the state's two most profitable agricultural regions in the Central Valley and Central Coast. That pollution is costing taxpayers $20- $36 million per year just in providing safe water to the communities affected in the Southern San Joaquin and Salinas valleys, the UC Davis report said. Researchers at the UC Davis Center for Watershed Science estimate the annual cost to taxpayers could be closer to $100 million statewide. “The same people who labor tirelessly to make the ag industry profitable are forced to travel miles to purchase bottled water for their families, and wait years, if not decades, for funding to mitigate the contamination of their drinking water,” said Jeanette Pantoja, a community worker for California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc., in Salinas. “Communities from San Lucas in the south to the Struve road residences of Springfield Terrace in the north are starting to ask question and demand action.” Monterey County reaps over $3 billion in annual ag income, and in Tulare county in 2011, fruit and nut commodities alone were valued at over $2 billion. Despite the agricultural wealth, the costs of unsafe water have been borne for years by small rural community water systems and low- income families forced to buy bottled water because it’s unsafe to drink from the tap. Nitrate in drinking water has been linked to Blue Baby syndrome, miscarriage, birth defects, diabetes, thyroid disease, and cancer. Unlike pesticides, chemical fertilizers are currently exempt from sales tax. “By creating a fee for a similar amount we could generate a vital source of revenue for communities to ensure access to safe and affordable drinking water,” said Jennifer Clary of Clean Water Action. “The state has known for 40 years that applying too much fertilizer on crops contaminates drinking water with unsafe levels of nitrates,” said Maria Herrera of Community Water Center, a non-profit that works with communities like Seville, Monson, and East Orosi without safe drinking water in the southern San Joaquin Valley. “The problem is getting worse for communities and taxpayers throughout California. We need action now.” Among its 15 recommendations, the report also calls for the establishment of nitrate at-risk areas for more focused regulatory oversight and funding and increased monitoring of private wells.
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