Thursday, October 18, 2018

California's Poisoned Water

In the center of California lies one of the most important agricultural areas in the US — an 18,000-square-mile stretch of heartland known as the Central Valley. Each year, the region's mega-farms produce about a quarter of the nation's food supply. Without them, a significant swathe of the US could lose easy access to staple foods like fruits, vegetables, and nuts. That's begun to look increasingly likely as the effects of drought poison the water supply and cause the land to sink.

The problems date back to 2011 when California was hit by one of the worst droughts in its history. From then until 2014, the state was the driest it's ever been on record. The effects of the drought are long-lasting.

The land is now painfully starved for groundwater, prompting farmers to drill wells into the ground and pump the water through aquifers (bodies of porous rock that act as a natural filtration system). When farmers over-pump the water — which they often do, given the arid nature of the soil — it can cause the land to sink at a rate of two inches per month in some areas. Sinking poses a danger to nearby infrastructure, causing roads to crack or holes to form in the ground. It can also damage aqueducts, or underground pipes, making it even more difficult to move water between locations.

 But the area is struggling with yet another environmental concern: poisoned water. 

new study shows that over-pumping aquifers can release arsenic, a toxic chemical that increases the risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes when present in significant amounts. According to the study, around 10% of wells tested in the San Joaquin Valley — the Central Valley's main agricultural hotspot — have shown dangerous levels of arsenic over the last ten years.

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