To single out the California dairy industry, as it is so proud to often single iteslf out as the highest earning commodity in the state and tops in the nation, the grand scale on which it is practiced in California has guaranteed pollution of groundwater from manure and air from deisel-truck produced particulate smog.
Tulare is the top dairy producing county in the nation; Merced is second. Given the progrss of the dairy industry, Merced can expect to move up in the ranks of air and groundwater pollution as our noble "stewards of the land" increase their profits at the expense of our health and safety.
Badlands Journal editorial board
Valley water agencies look at farming contamination
By Mark Grossi
California failed to protect the San Joaquin Valley from fertilizer, dairy and septic contamination now threatening drinking water from thousands of wells, says the leader of the responsible state agency.
But Pamela Creedon, executive officer of the Central Valley Regional Water Control Board, says her agency is working on ways to make up for the past.
"We have more than 50% of our resources focused in groundwater programs, and we're expanding our efforts," said Creedon.
Creedon spoke in Clovis on Thursday after a University of California at Davis researcher described his study on the Valley's vast water contamination from nitrates, which he linked mostly to farm fertilizing and dairy practices in the past.
Creedon and UC Davis hydrologist Thomas Harter were on a discussion panel at an annual conference arranged by Fresno State's International Center for Water Technology.
The conference featured panels and speakers on many of California's water issues, including underground water banking and Southern California's quest for new water sources.
No issue was bigger than the Harter study, released in March. The research confirmed the long-suspected connection between farming and nitrates, which can cause birth defects and a fatal blood disease in infants.
The study says the problem coming from millions of farming acres is getting worse. It suggests many changes, including added fertilizer fees to raise money for water cleanups in many communities. Most rural Valley towns are completely dependent on wells for tap water.
"Safe drinking water is the most urgent issue," Harter said.
Many people in small Tulare County towns and other places in the Valley buy bottled water, fearing the nitrate-laced water from their taps will harm their children.
In the last decade, the regional water board began working with irrigated agriculture and dairies to control nitrates, salts and other water problems, Creedon said.
Later this year, the state will issue the first rules for controlling salts, nitrates and other contaminants in underground water. California will be the first place in the United States to regulate underground water, state water leaders say.
The rules will be issued in one Valley geographical area at a time. The first will be for the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition, a group of farmers and water districts in Madera, Merced, Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.
Coalition executive director Parry Klassen, who spoke on the panel Thursday, said nearly half of the group's farmers already are testing their water for nitrates to track the amount in their wells.
"Farmers are doing a great job of being efficient with fertilizer," he said. "We just don't have the data yet to show it."
Report: Tulare County second to Los Angeles for worst air
by DONNA-MARIE SONNICHSEN
Tulare County now has the dubious distinction of being second only to Los Angeles when it comes to the most polluted air in the country, says a report released Wednesday by the American Lung Association.
The annual State of the Air report card gave the county an F in both ozone and particulate (soot) pollution levels.
But as bad as the air quality is, the levels are the best since the annual report began in 2000, said Bonnie Holmes-Gen, association air quality and health executive director.
"It's definitely not as rapid progress as we'd like to see," she said. "But it is affirmation the federal Clean Air Act and the state's rules and regulations to reduce emissions are working."
And while there is still much to be done to improve the area's air quality, the Valley has some of the strictest anti-pollution rules and regulations in the nation, causing a constant balancing act between improving the environment and not discouraging businesses away from the area, said San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District spokeswoman Jaime Holt.
"We really do have some of the toughest, if not the toughest, rules in the entire nation," she said, adding there are many large industries in the area that have reduced their carbon footprint up to 98 percent over the past 20 years. Geography and climate account for 85 percent of Valley pollution, thanks to prevailing winds that pool smog in the southern end of the Valley, she said.
Those trapped pollutants include ozone, a pollutant created after combustible engine emissions from vehicles are "cooked" by the heat and sun, creating an irritating gas that can burn lung tissue, damage respiratory tracts and lead to shortness of breath triggering asthma attacks, respiratory infections, even early death, Holmes-Gen said.
But there's even worse pollution in Valley air — deadly tiny particulate matter created from dust, ash, metals and chemicals — that gets trapped deep in the lungs leading also to asthma attacks and lung health problems, but also capable of passing into the blood stream causing heart attacks, strokes and premature death, Holmes-Gen said.
Most at risk are the very young and the very old; children because it can cause underdeveloped lung growth pretty much guaranteeing lifelong respiratory problems, and senior citizens because of existing lung illness or heart conditions, she explained.
And although Valley pollution levels are improving, the area still has above normal respiratory-related illnesses in the area. In fact, a 2006 study showed 10 percent of Valley residents and as many as one in five children have developed some respiratory problems, Visalia and Fresno Allergy Institute medical director Dr. A. M. Aminian said.
Progress made has also not been reflected in the number of asthma cases and emergency room visits, which have not dropped greatly, Visalia allergy and respiratory specialist Dr. Rabinder Sidhu said.
And the poor — many of whom reside in Tulare County — have an even harder time with access to health care, Sidhu added.
The report card, released the last Wednesday each April, is meant to be a kind of wakeup call, Holmes-Gen said.
"We want the public to know this is a very serious problem. This is not just a nuisance that clouds the skies. It affects our very ability to breath," Holmes-Gen explained.
It is also meant to show people that past anti-pollution efforts are making a difference.
"Lots of people have made sacrifices and it is having an impact, but we need more people to make those kinds of decisions to improve air quality," she added.