California Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Salinas) saw his groundwater contamination bill (AB 2174) pass the Senate Agriculture Committee Tuesday, a critical step. The “simple but important” bill allows fees already collected for fertilizer use to be applied to technical advice statewide. Nitrates, a contaminate, comprises the bulk of commercial fertilizers; minimizing their use curbs seepage into groundwater reserves.
The Calif. Fertilizer Research and Education Program (FREP), according to Alejo staff, would use the redirected funding for training on the “appropriate use of fertilizing material.” With the bill’s “clarification” the program can “address” contamination of groundwater caused by nitrate fertilizers.
The State Water Resources Control Board recently reported to the Legislature that the Salinas Valley and Tulare Lake Basin lead the state in nitrate contamination, part of Alejo’s district.
A UC Davis study, “Addressing Nitrate in California’s Drinking Water,” in part found: “For more than half a century, nitrate from fertilizer and animal waste have infiltrated into Tulare Lake Basin and Salinas Valley aquifers. Most nitrates in drinking water wells today was applied to the surface decades ago. Agricultural fertilizers and animal wastes applied to cropland are by far the largest regional sources of nitrate in groundwater.”
The bill is likely to become law with continued bipartisan support, and chances are all the more assured by diverse special interest backing. The Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, champion of farm worker families, joins in support with the key farm industry groups Western Growers Association and Farm Bureau Federation.
The unanimous vote in the Agriculture Committee refers the bill to the Senate Environmental Quality Committee highly recommended.
"Clean drinking water is a fundamental right,” said Alejo upon the bill’s passing out of committee. “If the state were to supply safe drinking water to the communities currently affected, it would cost up to $36 million per year. Instead of incurring that cost, let's get ahead of the problem. Let's educate our farmers and help them improve efficiency in nitrogen use and reduce nitrate loading to groundwater."