Developing Ground-Up Solutions to Non-point Source Pollution of Groundwater: An Environmental Justice Perspective
Community Water Center
Throughout the world, communities rely on groundwater for drinking water sources, yet very few regulatory systems protect groundwater from non-point sources. Increasingly, this is the primary cause of unsafe drinking water. In agricultural areas of the United States, nitrate is the most common drinking water contaminant, often far exceeding legal and safe limits. In California?s San Joaquin Valley, approximately 90 percent of communities rely on groundwater for their drinking water sources, although those sources are becoming increasingly contaminated primarily from non-point sources. It is often farm workers and the poorest agricultural communities whose wells are contaminated with nitrate and pesticides and other non-point source contaminants. While these communities rely on agriculture for jobs and their economy, they are impacted on a daily basis by the externalities of contamination allowed to occur due to inadequate regulation or control. Community members in many of these small farm worker communities are beginning to demand that regulatory bodies address the impacts of regulatory inaction on community drinking water supplies. Already, due to stakeholder involvement of impacted communities, regulatory agencies have begun to institute programs to control groundwater contamination of dairy operations and even irrigated agriculture. Current regulatory approaches ignore the issue of source protection and often regulatory regimes leave out the major economic industries all together, meaning the poorest and most disenfranchised communities often remain without safe water to drink. This is true even in California. Today over 20 percent of small public water systems in Tulare County have nitrate over legal drinking water standards, and many have pesticide contamination as well. Yet there are no requirements on irrigated agriculture?s fertilizer application. Without regulatory regimes to protect groundwater from non-point sources, we will never solve our drinking water crisis. But that challenge will take the involvement of impacted communities to ensure that those needs are being addressed. The Community Water Center works with low income and communities of color in California?s rural San Joaquin Valley. Our mission is to create community-driven water solutions through organizing, education and advocacy in California?s San Joaquin Valley. Much of our work focuses on improving groundwater used as a source of drinking water in the southern San Joaquin Valley, the agricultural heart of and poorest county in the state. Our work focuses on the coordination and development of the AGUA coalition and its campaign for groundwater protection, particularly from sources of nitrate.