« Return to this article

for people who care about the West

How the California drought exacerbates water contamination

This rural community couldn't drink the water, even if they had it.

 

The community of East Orosi lies in Tulare County, California, one of the most drought-stricken stretches of the state. The news that some nearby wells were going dry caught on as an symbol of just how bad California’s water situation has gotten. But the challenges East Orosi faces were brewing long before the drought of the past four years. The town is situated at the center of miles of agricultural land, and the waste runoff from those lands has contaminated the town's groundwater with nitrates. As water levels below ground have fallen due to drought and with increased pumping, the concentration of contaminants has risen. Much of the town’s water is no longer safe to drink.

Many residents must now travel to buy water in five-gallon jugs and schools rely on bottled water. The drought shows no sign of breaking, and groundwater pumping is continuing apace. In the video above, East Orosi residents talk about the effect the drought has had on their lives.