Reporting on groundwater contamination in rural Salinas Valley communities

Published on
February 7, 2013

I'm honored to be participating in the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowship in LA later this month. My fellowship proposal is a deeper look at groundwater contamination, with arsenic and nitrates identified as the two worst offenders.

I've covered contentious regulatory and scientific issues around nitrates, but I'm looking forward to pursuing the health aspects further. While there's disagreement about whether to attribute high levels of nitrates in the Salinas Valley to decades-old farming practices or current farming practices, the largely untold story is about rural farmworker communities that rely on contaminated drinking water supplies. 

A recent state-mandated study found that cleaning up nitrate-contaminated drinking water could cost up to $30 million. It's not clear where that kind of money could come from, especially for cash-strapped rural communities. I'll look at a proposal to change how financing works through the state Department of Public Health's Drinking Water Program.  

While the courts begin sorting out new highly politicized nitrate regulations for Central Coast farms, I hope to shed more light on the real implications of groundwater contamination by reporting on farmworkers who live in areas with impaired water supplies.