Widespread contamination threatens California’s groundwater

Widespread contamination threatens California’s groundwater, a source of drinking water for half the state’s population, according to the environmental NGO the National Resources Defence Council (NRDC).

According to California’s Contaminated Groundwater: Is the State Minding the Store?, the full extent of damage to the groundwater supply is unknown because the state government is failing to comprehensively monitor and assess the level of contaminants in the groundwater.

“Groundwater is a natural resource of unparalleled importance to California, but the state’s approach to monitoring and protecting it is a jumble of disconnected and often ineffective approaches that leave us dangerously unprepared for the future,” said David Beckman, an NRDC senior attorney who co-authored the report and directed its groundwater probe. “The unsettling reality is that California has a widespread groundwater contamination problem, but no one truly knows exactly how bad the situation is – or how bad it may become.”

The agency most responsible for monitoring the state’s groundwater supplies, the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), is crying foul. The NRDC ignored a new state programme to test local wells among other deficiencies in the report, according to SWRCB officials.

The NRDC report did not mention the Ambient Groundwater Monitoring Program, which the SWRCB conducts with the US Geological Laboratories and Lawrence Livermore Laboratories to test low-level volatile organic compounds and age dating analysis.

“The report points out that we need to be more vigilant in protecting our groundwater,” said James Giannopoulos, assistant division chief with the division of clean water programs at the SWRCB. “It’s hard to argue with that. We don’t know if we’re doing monitoring as well as it can be done, but we are trying.”

“It’s obvious we’re not communicating our message effectively,” he added.

The NRDC is also supporting a measure in the California State Legislature called the Groundwater Monitoring Act of 2001, sponsored by Assemblywoman Carol Liu, D-Pasadena. The measure was reported out of the Assembly Environment and Toxics Materials Committee and could face a vote before the full Assembly later this year.

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