FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
State Urged to Proactively Plan for Future Recharge Scenarios
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Today, the Governor signed Executive Order N-4-23, which allows flooding of agricultural lands for groundwater recharge without confirming in advance that agricultural pollutants will not be flushed into drinking water supplies. Advocates agree with the urgent need to protect communities from flooding, and that groundwater recharge is critical to groundwater sustainability, but today’s action puts communities and households at risk of exposure to pollution.
Allowing landowners to flood their fields without advance analysis of impacts to groundwater quality is potentially harmful to communities surrounded by agriculture. Many of the soils in agricultural areas are poisoned by nitrates. Unpermitted groundwater recharge threatens to pull nitrates from the soil to drinking water supplies. Additionally, groundwater recharge can result in the mobilization of uranium and other heavy metals into drinking water sources.
“We appreciate the inclusion of some safeguards, particularly the prohibition of recharge on dairy land that is highly polluted with nitrates, but these protections do not go far enough,” says Michael Claiborne, Directing Attorney of Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. “Community residents we work alongside are impacted by severe flooding and a response is necessary, but we must learn from this for future flooding scenarios to ensure that community health is protected.”
High levels of nitrate in drinking water, even if exposed for a short period of time, can cause serious health concerns for infants such as Methemoglobinemia or Blue Baby Syndrome, diarrhea, vomiting, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). If the water is contaminated with nitrates it will look and smell clean so most of the affected residents, often low-income communities of color and farmworkers, cannot detect it.
“Our communities have spent decades combatting nitrate contamination in their drinking water due to minimal oversight of industrial agriculture. We know better now and can’t continue to make the same mistakes, condemning future generations to this same water crisis,” says Kyle Jones, Policy & Legal Director of Community Water Center.
EO N-4-23 does contain some protections, including the prohibition of recharge on dairy land and the requirement that the State Water Resources Control Board use its authority to enforce protections for water quality, but since reporting occurs two weeks after recharge begins, these provisions are not designed to protect frontline communities before negative impacts occur.
“Extreme floods and droughts are part of our climate present and future,” said Jennifer Clary, California Director for Clean Water Action. “Just as we’re learning to deal with California’s growing wildfire risk, we must also learn to deal with the water extremes that we’re seeing in a way that protects communities.”
Climate change means that California’s hydrology will continue to increase invariability. We know wet years will have more potential for flooding and need to do the work to clearly delineate which lands can be flooded in storm events to recharge our aquifers without harming nearby communities. We urge the state to complete proactively planning and mapping of where groundwater recharge should and should not occur that includes considerations of the quality and composition of the source water, the qualities of the soil upon which recharge will occur, and the proximity of drinking water wells and communities.
Community Water Center (CWC) works to ensure that all communities have reliable access to safe, clean, and affordable water. Founded in 2006, CWC is a not-for-profit environmental justice organization, whose mission is to act as a catalyst for community-driven water solutions through education, organizing, and advocacy.
Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability works alongside the most impacted communities to advocate for sound policy and eradicate injustice to secure equal access to opportunity regardless of wealth, race, income and place. We work with community leaders throughout the San Joaquin Valley and Eastern Coachella Valley on such issues as safe affordable drinking water, basic transit services, wastewater services, decent affordable housing, and the right to live free from industrial pollution with infrastructure that supports healthy lifestyles. Through co-powerment, organizing, litigation, policy advocacy, and research, we confront California's stark inequalities manifest in too many of California's low income communities and communities of color.
Clean Water Action - Since our founding during the campaign to pass the landmark Clean Water Act in 1972, Clean Water Action has worked to win strong health and environmental protections by bringing issue expertise, solution-oriented thinking and people power to the table.
Our Mission is to protect our environment, health, economic well-being and community quality of life. Clean Water Action organizes strong grassroots groups and coalitions, and campaigns to elect environmental candidates and to solve environmental and community problems.