California’s Plan to Store Water Underground Could Risk Contamination

Government is either mismanaged, incompetent or corrupt.  Sometimes by trying to be well intentioned, it harms us.

New research draws from a growing database of groundwater data to map the elemental metal chromium in wells across the state. Researchers included wells used by government agencies to monitor pollution and the progress of cleaning projects, in addition to wells used for drinking water.

While it occurs naturally, it can also enter the ground through human activities.

“People know we have industrial contamination,” says Scott Fendorf a Stanford soil chemist and co-author on the study. “That is clear within the data.”

Fendorf points to the work of activists who are fighting against industrial pollution, as Erin Brockovich did in her 1993 court case against Pacific Gas & Electric.

“That’s just not the only threat to groundwater. If you’re thinking larger, the natural contaminants are really widespread.”

Is Sacramento, due to its refusal to spend money voters gave them to build and expand dams, causing harm to our health?  Yup—they would rather harm our families then do what is right.  Expect different from Sacramento Democrats and Jerry Brown?

Lake Shasta Water Reservoir

California’s Plan to Store Water Underground Could Risk Contamination

Amanda Heidt,  KQED,  9/19/18

As California begins handing out $2.5 billion in state funds for several new water management projects, a shift is taking place in the ways officials are considering storing water. To contend with the likelihood of future extreme droughts, some of these new strategies rely on underground aquifers — an approach far removed from traditional dam-based water storage.

While diversifying the toolbelt of water management strategies will likely help insulate the state against loss, a group of researchers at Stanford University are drawing attention to a risk they say has long ridden under the radar of public consciousness: the introduction of dangerous chemicals into California groundwater, both through industrial and natural pathways.

Chromium in California

Chromium exists naturally in two main forms that are dependent on the local chemistry of the soils. One — chromium-3 (Cr-3) — is benign, and in fact can be beneficial in the body. But chromium-6 (Cr-6) is toxic, linked by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with health issues including asthma-like symptoms, irritation of the nose, throat, eyes or skin, and in extreme cases lung cancer.

New research draws from a growing database of groundwater data to map the elemental metal chromium in wells across the state. Researchers included wells used by government agencies to monitor pollution and the progress of cleaning projects, in addition to wells used for drinking water.

While it occurs naturally, it can also enter the ground through human activities.

“People know we have industrial contamination,” says Scott Fendorf a Stanford soil chemist and co-author on the study. “That is clear within the data.”

Fendorf points to the work of activists who are fighting against industrial pollution, as Erin Brockovich did in her 1993 court case against Pacific Gas & Electric.

“That’s just not the only threat to groundwater. If you’re thinking larger, the natural contaminants are really widespread.”

This is particularly true in California, Fendorf says, where the geology is rich in chromium-carrying rocks.

Where is it All Coming From?

Fendorf and his collaborators found that all of the almost 16,000 wells they analyzed — spread throughout the majority of the state  — showed Cr-6 present in low trace amounts. However, a smaller subset of wells, including 26 percent of monitoring wells and 7 percent of supply wells, had levels high enough to exceed a previous state-mandated maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 10 parts per billion (ppb).

In addition to mapping chromium exposure throughout California, researchers wanted to identify the sources. By looking at other compounds found alongside Cr-6, they were able to identify three possible points of contamination: industry, agriculture, and natural input.

Industries such as metal plating were linked to high Cr-6 levels in the areas outside of Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay. Los Angeles is the largest manufacturing center in the United States, and San Francisco’s proximity to Silicon Valley drives much of its industrial growth.

In the more rural Central Valley, researchers found that chromium was being introduced into the groundwater through agricultural practices. The heavy use of fertilizers meant that chromium was often found alongside nitrogen-based compounds which provide nutrients for crops.

But parts of the Central Valley also pointed to a different source, one that researchers highlighted in their study: the presence of natural chromium in the land itself and its ability to shift from benign to toxic over time.

Within the rocks, chromium is found in areas where oceanic and continental plates come together, as in California where the Pacific plate and North American Plate meet along the San Andreas Fault. Serpentinite is a common rock found in these zones, to which chromium lends a distinctive green color.

About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a fulltime political consultant.