Water and Health in the San Joaquin Valley - Nitrate Contamination of Drinking Water

The San Joaquin Valley is the center of California’s growing drinking water crisis. Five of its eight counties – Fresno, Madera, Merced, Kern, Kings, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Tulare – have some of the highest rates of water contamination per person in the state.1 Contaminated drinking water causes many adverse human health effects, including gastrointestinal illnesses, nervous or reproductive system impacts, and chronic diseases such as cancer.

This is the first of a series of reports from the Community Water Center that examine the prevalence of common drinking water contaminants in the San Joaquin Valley and the rates of related health indicators as outlined in public health literature.

The research does show two things, however: the San Joaquin Valley has high rates of nitrate contamination from agriculture and large animal facilities, and San Joaquin Valley residents face many health problems at rates much higher than elsewhere in the state. We believe that these two facts alone should be enough to compel us – as water providers, as government regulators, as residents in the San Joaquin Valley, and as a society – to ensure that our drinking water sources are protected to the utmost of our ability and to prioritize reducing the number of people drinking contaminated water. Safe, clean water is a human right, not a privilege.

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