California Debates Nitrate Study

A recent University of California study, which places responsibility for the overwhelming majority of nitrate pollution in the lap of the agricultural industry, is being challenged by state farmers and agricultural advocacy groups, leading to a potential battle between environmentalists and farmers in the statehouse in Sacramento.

The recent University of California at Davis study found significant and troubling levels of nitrate pollution and contamination in Central Valley waterways. The group responsible for this pollution, the study concludes, are farmers. According to the report, about 95 percent of nitrate contamination can be traced back to farmers and agricultural production in the Central Valley.

According to the study, about a quarter of a million California homes receive tainted drinking water. While the area in the study is only about 7 percent of the state’s population, it contains about 40 percent of the state’s agricultural production. The cleanup required to render the water safe could be costly, the report suggests, and should be paid for by the agricultural industry.

The study suggests that about 60 percent of the nitrogen applied to crops is leached into groundwater, a figure that some farmers dispute. In particular, many farmers argue that, given the high prices of nitrogen based fertilizers, they are not likely to use apply farm chemicals unnecessarily.

The fallout from this study could reach the statehouse, where contentious debates over water use are currently raging, or even Capitol Hill, where the Environmental Protection Agency is already targeting farmers’ use of fertilizers around the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer