Sinking land caused by intensive groundwater pumping in the San Joaquin Valley is releasing trapped arsenic — a known carcinogen — into aquifers that supply irrigation and drinking water for a million people, according to a new study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications. Arsenic, a naturally occurring chemical in the Earth’s crust, is undetectable by the human senses and has been linked to a host of diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Researchers at Stanford University say residents should be concerned about arsenic levels in their water supply.
The top United States official at the international agency charged with overseeing efforts to stem ongoing water pollution in the Tijuana River Valley stepped down on Friday. The departure of Edward Drusina, former commissioner of the U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission, or IBWC, comes as the agency continues to face legal attacks from South Bay cities that routinely shutter beaches due to pollution from south of the border.
San Diego is the only city in California seeking state reimbursement for testing the toxic lead levels in water at local schools, which has cost the city’s water agency more than $400,000. The city has done tests at 256 schools since early 2017, but must test another 45 schools over the next six weeks. State legislation requires water agencies to test every public school, regardless of whether the agency gets a request, by July 1. Significantly more schools in San Diego County have been tested than in any other county in California since the state requirement began.
Unpurified, untreated water is available for sale – for $16 a jug. The so-called “raw water” trend, as initially reported in The New York Times, made it even easier to call Californians crazy. The newspaper reported that the untreated spring water, bottled in glass, was so popular at San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery that it was often out of stock. The company behind the product – Live Spring Water – says on its website that its “spring water is collected from Opal Spring in Central Oregon.” The website promises that the unfiltered water “goes directly into triple washed and rinsed 2.5 gallon lead free glass jugs.”
Many Americans know the name Kesterson as the California site where thousands of birds and fish were discovered with gruesome deformities in 1983, a result of exposure to selenium-poisoned farm runoff. Thirty-five years later, it is one of the oldest unresolved water problems in the state. Selenium, a naturally occurring element, is essential to people and animals alike in small doses. But selenium continues pouring off many San Joaquin Valley farms in larger quantities, which can be toxic.
The river is so foul that rumors swirl about two-headed turtles and three-eyed fish. If you fall in, locals joke, you might sprout a third arm. So go the stories about the New River, whose putrid green water runs like a primordial stew from Mexico’s sprawling city of Mexicali through California’s Imperial Valley. The river, with skull-and-crossbone signs warning about the danger it poses, reminds Calexico resident Carlos Fernandez of a scene in “The Simpsons Movie” where Homer Simpson disposes of pig feces by dumping them into a lake.