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The Human Costs of Nitrate-Contaminated Drinking Water: A Community-Driven Research Project

This study of the impacts of nitrate contamination emerged out of a partnership between the Pacific Institute, the Community Water Center, Clean Water Fund, and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation in the summer of 2009. The purpose of the project was to document social, economic, and health impacts of nitrate contamination of groundwater in the San Joaquin Valley. We conducted household surveys in communities using small water systems and analyzed the costs of nitrate mitigation projects across the valley. The goal was to align research on nitrate contamination with grassroots efforts toward clean and safe water. Our research approach aimed to enable and empower community residents to identify key concerns, participate in the development of research methods, and use research findings to raise awareness about the problem of nitrate-contaminated water.

Why focus on nitrate contamination?

Nitrate contamination of groundwater from manure, fertilizer, and leaking septic systems is prevalent in the San Joaquin Valley. Small water systems operated by volunteer boards and the low-income and Latino communities they serve are most affected by this contamination. Because use of nitrate-contaminated water results in adverse impacts on health and quality of life, residents are compelled to avoid the water by purchasing alternative sources or even reducing the amount of water consumed. This project will document these social, economic, and health impacts in order to communicate the full extent of the nitrate contamination problem to community and public policy audiences.

The Institute's release of The Human Costs of Nitrate-Contaminated Drinking Water in the San Joaquin Valley comes right before the Central Coast Water board hearing regarding proposed revisions to the agricultural regulatory program. The Central Coast Water Board is the governing body with the power to require monitoring and mitigation of nitrate contamination from irrigated lands and will hold a public meeting on March 17, 2011 to consider staff’s recommendations.

Read the Report

Executive Summary (PDF)
Full Report (PDF)
Press Release (PDF)

This project was supported by grants from the California Environmental Protection Agency and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

For more information, contact: Eli Moore, Pacific Institute, 510.251.1600 ext. 123


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The Human Costs of Nitrate-Contaminated Drinking Water in the San Joaquin Valley
(Executive Summary)

The Human Costs of Nitrate-Contaminated Drinking Water in the San Joaquin Valley (Full Report)

The Human Costs of Nitrate-Contaminated Drinking Water in the San Joaquin Valley (Press Release)

More about the Community Strategies for Sustainability and Justice Program