Orange Cove water contaminated by nitrates.

Posted in: Drinking Water News, Water Contamination
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Article courtesy by Mark Grossi | December 25, 2012 | The Fresno Bee

The 10,000 residents of Orange Cove may be drinking bottled water over Christmas and New Year’s as tainted water slowly is flushed out of the city’s water system.

The system had filled with nitrate-laced well water over the past few days before city workers discovered the problem Thursday. Residents were immediately warned not to drink the water.

The system might be flushed out within a few days, but City Manager Samuel A. Escobar is warning residents it could take up to two weeks. A malfunctioning water-quality monitor was most likely the problem, he said. “We’re not sure yet exactly what happened,” Escobar said Friday. “But we sample water in the field, so we found the problem quickly.”

The city is filling up large bottles, jugs and other containers with purified drinking water for residents. People are encouraged to bring their own containers. The water is being distributed at the corner of Park Boulevard and Railroad Avenue, across the street from the public library. The contamination came from well water that the city obtained from local farmers. The city usually gets San Joaquin River water through the Friant-Kern Canal, which has been dried out for maintenance.

Nitrates, which come from fertilizers, animal waste, septic systems and rotting plants, are common in wells around rural communities. The chemicals can cause a potentially fatal blood disease in infants. It also has been linked to cancer. Orange Cove’s water treatment plant is equipped with the technology to remove nitrates. The plant will filter water and send it into the city’s system. The bad water will be eliminated as people flush toilets and bathe, Escobar said. Health leaders advise against boiling the water, which will only concentrate the nitrates. Assembly Member Henry T. Perea offered the city some state help, saying the nitrates issue is high on his agenda.

“This is no doubt a difficult time for families in Orange Cove, especially during the holidays,” he said. “It’s my hope that this situation is resolved quickly, but it just goes to show that there is still much work to be done on water quality issues.”

Perea’s office learned late Friday that the California Department of Public Health will provide up to $250,000 to Orange Cove to assist in efforts to decontaminate the city’s water supply and to purchase clean drinking water for distribution throughout the community.

The reporter can be reached at mgrossi@fresnobee.com, (559) 441-6316(559) 441-6316 or @markgrossi on Twitter.

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