The City of Modesto has a large plume of toxic chemicals below ground. As time goes by, the plume is spreading via groundwater migration. Multiple sources of contamination are making wells around the community unusable.
Though serious, groundwater depletion is only one of our problems. Every year, more wells are taken out of service. In the long run, unless a way is found to clean out the chemicals, very few wells will remain in service, even if we find ways to recharge diminishing groundwater supplies. Technology to clean contaminated groundwater is very limited and takes decades to accomplish.
The sale of surface water by local water agencies to outside water districts and the shipment of water south will come back to haunt us, guaranteeing future shortage that will hurt the local economy.
Sources of Groundwater Contamination in the Central Valley
Modesto is a microcosm of development in the Central Valley. The sources of contamination in Modesto are repeated throughout the Valley. The historical primary source of groundwater chemical contamination has been businesses that have dumped chemicals in dumps on their own properties.
In Modesto, the businesses responsible for groundwater contamination have been numerous industrial companies like defense contractor FMC, gasoline stations with leaking tanks, dry cleaning companies that dumped chemicals outside their premises, and even homeowners who have dumped old oil and chemicals in their backyards or in street drains.
Surrounding Modesto, agricultural enterprises have contributed to groundwater contamination. Septic sewage systems contaminate groundwater. Many agricultural enterprises and farms do not properly dispose of toxic waste, creating small onsite dumps. Pesticides leech into the ground through irrigation.
All of these contaminating activities are commonplace in the Central Valley. Toxic waste contributors of unknown quantity exist all over the Valley, and include sources as seemingly innocuous as septic tanks. Inhabitants have felt that the Valley is so large that the environment’s ability to recover is limitless. As the ongoing drought has brought home the realization that the water supply is limited, groundwater contamination suddenly looms as a large problem.
The Damage is Cumulative
Contamination has accumulated ever since widespread Central Valley settlement started in the 1850’s. The contaminants continuously leech into the ground over time and spread with the help of groundwater pumping. As water is pumped out of working wells, contaminated water in toxic chemical plumes is drawn towards those wells. When the plume arrives, the well has to be shut down.
Even if all dumping stopped today, existing toxic chemicals already underground will continue to move until aquifers have spread the contaminants throughout the region. Finding uncontaminated groundwater will become more difficult to find. Surface supplies will be the most reliable sources of clean water.
Civilization relies on clean water to thrive. Without it, living things can’t exist. Past chemical disposal practices have been shortsighted. Not much local leadership has been displayed to date that indicate any recognition of the problem’s magnitude. A crisis is building that may result in a catastrophic fresh water shortage. With the decision to send more of our water south, we have already reached a tipping point beyond which we will be unable to recover.
John Duarte says
This is a real threat – especially as the Democratic CA government is threatening to grab the majority of our local surface water resources. The less surface water that we have, the more that we rely on our aquifers meet our needs. This issue played out in the 1980’s and 1990’s before Modesto partnered with MID to supply and build the water treatment plant. Our urban groundwater aquifer was over drafted and began to concentrate nitrates, uranium and arsenic to problematic levels.
Any politician not speaking out loudly and clearly against the water grab (i.e. Josh Harder-D) is not focused on our largest issue. Jeff Denham is on this issue. He was at the Sacramento Water Rally. Denham brought Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke into the district and has delivered results. The fight is still on. Let’s keep our strongest fighter.
John Duarte says
Here is a link describing Jeff Denham’s latest success in protecting our water from Bay Area Liberals – like Josh Harder.
Eric Caine says
Yes, I remember well when Mr. Duarte opposed the MID water sale to San Francisco. He now supports OID water sales. The difference? Mr. Duarte sells trees to buyers down south. San Francisco does not buy Mr. Duarte’s trees. It’s that simple. We could use that OID water to help compensate for the water grab, if it occurs. Mr. Duarte would prefer to sell it than use it here. It’s that simple.
Gualterio Blanco says
It’s a wonder that Mr. Duarte continues to read the “news” reported on this site when he is constantly attacked by Eric Caine. Folks, this man is your typical “journalist.” Unconcerned with the truth, but very concerned with promoting his left-wing nutjob agenda. As a valley resident who has lived here my whole life, I am embarrassed that we allow this hack to influence our views on government and the environment.
Eric Caine says
Mr. Blanco: When you can point to a falsehood, please advise and we will correct it. We do appreciate the originality in calling opposition to sending our water south a, “left-wing nutjob agenda.” Vocabulary from late 80s talk shows is always entertaining.
Gualterio Blanco says
Mr. Caine – how about this? You insinuate that Mr. Duarte only cares about the water issue because of his business interests. While it is true that Duarte Nursery sells trees and all over the place (including the south valley), did you ever stop to consider that he sells trees and vines here too? Or that he and his family live here, and have lived here for many years? Or that their business is based here? I suspect that your greenhouse experience is limited to “leafy plants” that are intended for combustion, so I wouldn’t expect you to know how much work it is to try to relocate something like a greenhouse business. It makes no business sense for him to cut off or deplete water he relies on for his enterprise here in order to make money in the south valley, and it makes no personal sense for him to harm his home for the sake of money elsewhere. Believe it or not, not all businesses are run by people who will do anything for a dollar. Most try to do the right thing regardless of how it affects their pocketbooks. It would be refreshing for you to give a businessperson who does not share your political beliefs the benefit of the doubt every once in awhile. You’re willing to do that for those you align with politically, like Mr. Harder despite his questionable business dealings in the past. While we may disagree on policy, those who think differently than we do aren’t our enemies. It’s time that “journalists” and “news outlets” start encouraging us to work together instead of trying to splinter and tear us apart.
I was listening to Ray Appleton on KMJ Fresno a while back. He’s a typical, if not mostly predictable, conservative radio host. At one point in his show, he was ridiculing former governor Schwarzenegger. The focus of his anger was how the former Governor had morphed from a trusty conservative into a worthless liberal.
His proof of this was when a previous interviewer asked the former Governor what he would do if he were king for a day. Among other things, Schwarzenegger said he would make healthcare free to all Americans (socialism…strike one), he would remove tax loopholes for corporations (job creators…strike two), and he would clean the oceans.
The oceans answer was enough for Appleton to close the case on Schwarzenegger by labeling him an “environmentalist,” and as such, beyond redemption. It was as though the litmus test for a true conservative – correct individual – was to answer the question “Should oceans be clean?” with Hell No!
It’s a bizarre juxtaposition by spite, where one would kill their children rather than admit they have them. The comments here show that water is not really the issue; instead, people want to make sure the topic is being spoken about under the right conditions and in the most comfortable framework: I didn’t kill the kids, they just aren’t here right now.
Nice work, Eric.
Sorry. Nice work, Bruce.
Travis W Malek says
Seems you shouldve added in the part about the uranium contamination in the wells.