California Crops and New England Energy

This week (2/26), I learned that the California grapes I enjoy likely grew at great cost to the farm workers who picked them. According to Elizabeth Royte ( , pure river water irrigates the farm crops in the San Joaquinvalley of Southern CA. Canals, ditches and headgates divert the waters of the Kings, Kaweah, Kern and Tule rivers to turn a CA desert into a bread basket.

 However, 90% of the residents in the valley must rely on groundwater for domestic use due to laws that allocate mountain fed river water to agriculture and other municipalities. Over the years, heavily fertilized soil nitrates have seeped into the groundwater and wells, some of which is over the federal limit of 45 mcg/liter for nitrates. Residents of the San Joaquin valley pay twice as much for this contaminated water as San Francisco households pay for pristine water pumped fromYosemite National Park. In addition, valley residents must buy bottled water to drink and cook with, thereby giving them less to spend on food.

 Nitrates remain in the groundwater for decades. Isotope testing documents fertilizer nitrates back to the 1950s. Exposure to high levels of nitrate is linked to respiratory tract infections, dysfunction of kidneys, spleen and pancreas, cancer of the digestive tract, bladder and thyroid, pregnancy complications, premature birth, and birth defects. 

Needed in our Bill of Rights are the rights to safe water, organic food, and renewable energy. In 1938, our government approved the use of chemical fertilizers for agriculture. Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (NPK) fertilizers have been widely used since then. Long-term overuse of such fertilizers raises havoc with the earth’s ecosystems.

 Since 1938, concerned people have questioned the long range effect of chemical additives on the environment.  Lines continue to be drawn between those who favor the use of chemicals and those who choose more environmentally compatible means of enriching our soil. Our government clearly supports the chemical industry while our increasing health problems generated by overuse of chemicals continue to challenge us all. Strange conditions pop up daily.

 We need to be mindful of the results of monkeying with rivers to change nature’s patterns, whether in the Northeast or Southwest. Planting and over-fertilizing thirsty crops on desert lands needing intensive irrigation instead of composted, drought resistant crops compromises the Southwest. Using energy from dammed up rivers instead of dreaming up ways to access available sun and wind power compromises the Northeast. Both practices threaten the future health and well being of us all.

 Town meetings give us an opportunity to vote for healthful initiatives that keep each other well. Here’s a chance to make your vote count.



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