Don’t Drink the Water, This Is America’s Food Basket!

Another depressing, necessary story on the interconnectedness of everything from our faith in the Invisible Hand to our all-Ammurcan “right” to cheap food. From the NYTimes:

SEVILLE, Calif. — Like most children, the students at Stone Corral Elementary School here rejoice when the bell rings for recess and delight in christening a classroom pet. But while growing up in this impoverished agricultural community of numbered roads and lush citrus orchards, young people have learned a harsh life lesson: “No tomes el agua!” — “Don’t drink the water!”

Seville, with a population of about 300, is one of dozens of predominantly Latino unincorporated communities in the Central Valley plagued for decades by contaminated drinking water. It is the grim result of more than half a century in which chemical fertilizers, animal wastes, pesticides and other substances have infiltrated aquifers, seeping into the groundwater and eventually into the tap. An estimated 20 percent of small public water systems in Tulare County are unable to meet safe nitrate levels, according to a United Nations representative…

Chris Kemper, the school’s principal, budgets $100 to $500 a month for bottled water. He recalled his astonishment, upon his arrival four years ago, at encountering the “ghost” drinking fountains, shut off to protect students from “weird foggyish water,” as one sixth grader, Jacob Cabrera, put it. Mr. Kemper said he associated such conditions with third world countries. “I always picture it as a laptop a month for the school,” he said of the added cost of water.

Here in Tulare County, one of the country’s leading dairy producers, where animal waste lagoons penetrate the air and soil, most residents rely on groundwater as the source for drinking water. A study by the University of California, Davis, this year estimated that 254,000 people in the Tulare Basin and Salinas Valley, prime agricultural regions with about 2.6 million residents, were at risk for nitrate contamination of their drinking water. Nitrates have been linked to thyroid disease and make infants susceptible to “blue baby syndrome,” a potentially fatal condition that interferes with the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen.

Communities like Seville, where corroded piping runs through a murky irrigation ditch and into a solitary well, are particularly vulnerable to nitrate contamination, lacking financial resources for backup systems. Fertilizer and other chemicals applied to cropland decades ago will continue to affect groundwater for years, according to the Davis study….

No doubt Nick Gillespie can find a Larry Summers lecture to explain that, you know, third-world immigrants don’t care about their kids getting sick from poisoned tap water because otherwise they wouldn’t have taps at all, and besides, have you seen what clean produce costs at Whole Food these days?

55 replies
  1. 1
    The Dangerman says:

    I worked in Tulare for a while; it’s a shithole. While I was there, unemployment DECREASED to “only” 15%. It’s very, VERY Red, so Romney shouldn’t be concerned that the students get “gifts” such as clean water.

    I met Devin Nunes once (he’s the Rep from the area); he struck me as a dullard, but he’s a Republican, so he has the seat for as long as he wants it.

  2. 2
    Ben Franklin says:

    Glad to see you on this Anne.

    Water is the new oil. Wars have occurred over less.

  3. 3
    mai naem says:

    I’m sure Rand Paul and Paul Ryan are going to help these brown people out and really give a crap about post-natal little human beings. I’m sure Rand Paul is going to change his position on tort reform and corporations being responsible for the consequences of their errors.

  4. 4
    blingee says:

    Did you hear that Petraeus is in a new video game? It’s called Call of Booty.

  5. 5
    Baud says:

    @The Dangerman:

    so Romney shouldn’t be concerned that the students get “gifts” such as clean water.

    “there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.

    Clean water was implied.

  6. 6
    mai naem says:

    BTW after this conference call to his wealthy .1 percent donors, I hope Obama offers Asswipe Romney the ambassadorship to Somalia with no protection because you know how expensive government paid protection is. Give asswipe a real taste of the Freeeeee Market.

  7. 7
    Delia says:

    Get Victor David Hanson, erstwhile of Cal State Fresno, to explain it all to you. I’m sure it has something to do with the Spartans and saving Western Civilization.

  8. 8
    muddy says:

    @Delia: “Fields without Dreams” didn’t mention this part.

  9. 9
    The Dangerman says:


    Clean water was implied.

    We didn’t dodge a bullet with the election; we dodged a fucking RPG. I’m kinda shocked this shit would make one of his last statements be so filled with contempt for the non-1%. I guess minority outreach for 2016 starts later.

  10. 10
    Mark S. says:

    I know there’s some fierce competition, but Louie Gohmert’s got to be the stupidest member of Congress. The evidence?

    GOP Lawmaker Nominates Newt Gingrich For Speaker

  11. 11
    Baud says:

    @The Dangerman:

    we dodged a fucking RPG.

    We really did. Romney would have made us nostalgic for W.

  12. 12
    Liberty60 says:

    Oh great- I am imagining people in Mexico, talking about visitng America as tourists, being advised “No tomes el agua!”


  13. 13
    Baud says:

    @Mark S.:

    Gohmert’s like an evil Gomer Pyle.

  14. 14
    blingee says:

    @mai naem: He deserves NOTHING. An Ambassadorship to Oldwhitemanistan where all the secessionists will live.

  15. 15
    henrythefifth says:

    I’m sure it’s the fault of some lazy teachers! What those kids need are some charter schools!

  16. 16
    tBone says:

    Probably worth pointing out that nitrate contamination is a problem in many agriculture areas across the country, not just poor immigrant communities. The bill for decades of shitty farming practices has come due.

  17. 17
  18. 18
    celticdragonchick says:

    It isn’t just pesticides and nitrates. Over-irrigation began leaching selenium from the valley sediments (which originated from the marine deposits of the Moreno Formation in the Coast Range), and concentrating it in the runoff.

    “In 1982, scientists made an unexpected discovery at Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge…in California’s San Joaquin Valley. They determined that irrigation drainage water was increasing selenium concentrations in the refuge’s ponds and causing reproductive failures and deaths in some species of aquatic organisms and waterfowl.

    “The rapidity of the contamination was without precedent. From the time the ponds were built in 1971 until 1978, Kesterson inflow was entirely fresh water. It was exclusively irrigation drainage water by 1981. Barely two years later, in 1982, the first problems were noted.

    “The contaminant involved—selenium—also was unprecedented. In the past, water quality degradation resulting from irrigated agriculture usually was associated with salinity, although residues from fertilizers and pesticides also sometimes caused problems. No one had anticipated contamination by the trace element selenium. Thus the discovery of Kesterson’s very visible selenium contamination attracted national attention, and it set in motion a widespread effort to identify causes and remedies.”

    Kesterson’s Reservoir was subsequently closed and sealed from further use to protect migratory birds along the Pacific Flyway and the public’s health.

  19. 19

    >Here in Tulare County, one of the country’s leading dairy producers, where animal waste lagoons penetrate the air and soil, most residents rely on groundwater as the source for drinking water.

    yet another reason to go vegan.

  20. 20
    RepubAnon says:

    As Ton Lehrer observed in his song “Pollution”:

    If you visit – American city.
    You will find it – very pretty.
    Just two things of which you must beware:
    Don’t drink the water and don’t breath the air!

    On the bright side of things, the water comes with fertilizer and pesticides included. Pity the insects have evolved to resist the pesticides, so it only kills the workers.

  21. 21
    jibeaux says:

    @Mark S.: I miss Molly Ivins so, so much.

  22. 22
    Karelian says:

    It is very satisfying to see the “Demand full recount for Allen West!” ad on Balloon Juice. Wingnut tears have healing powers and it is awesome the nuts are paying money for placement on this site.

  23. 23
    Origuy says:

    @jibeaux: She’s not Molly, but Juanita Jean has taken up the mantle.

    Just when you thought there was a limit to insanity, Louie Gohmert starts waving a rake around in the air to dove hunt.

  24. 24
    RedKitten says:

    tBone is exactly right — this is a problem everywhere. Ag producers want to maximize their land, so they ditch and drain any wetlands on their property. So all of the phosphorus and nitrogen by-products which would have gone into the wetland and been consumed by the invertebrates living in there…well, they’re all now finding their way into drinking water sources and recreational water sources. This is what Lake Winnipeg looks like now, in no small part due to wetland destruction in the Prairies. I shudder to think of what the groundwater looks like.

  25. 25
    Jamey says:

    Nick Gillespie should drink nothing but water from that town’s supply. And knock it back with a bag of heavily salted dicks.

  26. 26
    MobiusKlein says:

    @tBone: The bill is not ‘coming due after decades…”

    I remember 25+ years ago, going through rest stops on I-5 in the valley, seeing signs warning mothers not to use the water for formula or give to kids.

    It even mentioned that boiling the water would not help.

    This situation is more than 30 years old, and Democrat presidents and governors have not fixed it.

    It’s hard, and costs $$$ to fix.

  27. 27
    KG says:

    @MobiusKlein: not only is it hard and costly, it takes time. As in more time than legislators have before they are termed out

  28. 28
    trollhattan says:

    Beat me to it. Here’s professor Lehrer his ownself.

    Industrial ag is vastly out of control. Example: now that the use of Roundup-resistant crops is developing Roundup-resistance in weeds, they’re shifting to atrazine and 2,4-D, a.k.a. Agent Orange.

    And lemme tell you, compared to California other states are firehosing their crops with the stuff.


  29. 29
    trollhattan says:

    Fact: California regulates groundwater less than Texas. They have to fight with farmers to merely monitor it.

  30. 30
    trollhattan says:

    Also, too, Bring on the Brawndo deserves to be in the tag list.

    “You should give the crops water.”
    “The stuff in toilets?”

  31. 31
    lumpkin says:

    >>>have you seen what clean produce costs at Whole Food these days?<<<

    DON'T BUY FROM WHOLE FOODS!1!!!. The owner is a freakin' libertarian, which means that he thinks that people live in areas with poisoned water because they made a rational choice to do that.

  32. 32
    sparrow says:

    I’m sorry to go all OT but I am visiting friends in Ann Arbor and being forced to listen to NPR and the absolutely stupidest wank-fest on Petraeus is going on. Ugh.

  33. 33
    trollhattan says:

    Oh, you mean this feller?

    Many promoters of health-care reform believe that people have an intrinsic ethical right to health care—to equal access to doctors, medicines and hospitals. While all of us empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have to food or shelter?
    Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges. A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter. That’s because there isn’t any. This “right” has never existed in America
    Even in countries like Canada and the U.K., there is no intrinsic right to health care. Rather, citizens in these countries are told by government bureaucrats what health-care treatments they are eligible to receive and when they can receive them. All countries with socialized medicine ration health care by forcing their citizens to wait in lines to receive scarce treatments.

    I love rereading the classics.

  34. 34
    sparrow says:

    @lumpkin: I hate Whole Foods but less than I do the local Giant…

  35. 35
    CatHairEverywhere says:

    @The Dangerman: @The Dangerman: One of my friends grew up inMc Farland, which is a little south of Tulare. There was an unexplained cancer cluster in the area. An investigation of some sort occured, but the subject has been dropped.

  36. 36
    Baud says:


    absolutely stupidest wank-fest on Petraeus

    Isn’t that what got him in trouble in the first place?

  37. 37
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:

    @Mark S.: No chance Gohmert was being snarky?

    Jesus. They re-elected Boehner with no drama, no blood on the floor, no cries of “et tu, Louie?” I laid in enough popcorn for the weekend, and they fucked it up like Republicans always do.

  38. 38
    trollhattan says:

    I gave up when this a.m. they had Tom Ricks on as a Petraeus “expert,” as predicted in comments in This Very Blog.

    What a shitheel–his resolution was “Punish him by putting him back to work.”

    Right. “Monsignor, to reinforce how very disappointed we are in your actions with young boys, we’re putting you in charge of these young boys.”

  39. 39
    Svensker says:

    It’s not just in brown parts of the West. I’d suspect agricultural areas all over the U.S. We are frequent visitors to Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, a beautiful spot filled with lush, beautifully tended farms run by quaint Amish folks with their horses and buggies. They also use fertilizer up the wazoo. There are signs posted in hotels advising pregnant women and small children not to drink the water. And when you take a shower there’s this weird soapy feel to the water and you can’t rinse the shampoo out of your hair.

  40. 40

    As everybody here knows, since I’ve brought it up about 17,000 times, I lived in Honduras for two years. You can’t drink the water from the tap there, either. But, as it’s a third world country, everybody takes it in stride; it’s part of life. If you live in a town, you drink bottled water. If you live in the campo, you aren’t going to have running water anyway. If you’re lucky, you draw it from a well; if not, you take it out of the nearest creek.

    In the small town where I lived, the bottled water businesses are like dairies in the U.S. until about 50 years ago. A truck goes through town every two or three days and takes the empty jugs and drops off filled ones. You leave your money at the door if you aren’t at home when they come. It works pretty well. I don’t know what the drill is in the big towns or in the cities.

    But the thing is, in Honduras, there’s never been a water system that was safe to drink from. I’m hopeful that there will in time be safe drinking water running in everybody’s house, but they aren’t there yet. This, though, is the fucking U.S.A. We’ve had safe drinking water for, what, 100 years? And what the hell, now we’re giving up on clean water? It’s too much of a hassle? We don’t want to piss off the big businesses by making them follow the law and not dump their shit into the creek?

    Sometimes I don’t know what the fuck to think about this place. Honduras is scrabbling to make it up out of the third world; we’re doing our damnedest to slide down into it. Republicans really have done a number on us. Everything is too hard. Everything costs too much. It’s always too big an undertaking. “Oh, we can’t do that. It’ll take years, and we’ll have to raise taxes. Let’s just forget it and do without [insert random reasonably modest undertaking].” If the Republicans had been running things in the 1930’s, most of the country still wouldn’t have electric lights. These guys aren’t going to be happy until this country is Russia in 1850. The 1% will be czars and czarinas and everybody else will be serfs–before they emancipated the serfs, needless to say. And we all know how well that worked out in the end.

  41. 41
    burnspbesq says:

    In a perfect world, the cost of remediating (or, better yet, avoiding) all of the “negative externalities” associated with Big Ag would be baked into the price of our food, rather than being dumped on the locals. Clearly, this is not a perfect world.

  42. 42

    If I were the Kenyan Usurper I’d totes use the bully pulpit to redraw the western states into the large watersheds. That’s how the bully pulpit works, right?

  43. 43
    burnspbesq says:

    @Grumpy Code Monkey:

    No, Gohmert was dead serious. Nothing in the Constitution, any federal statute, or the House rules requires that the Speaker actually be a member of the House.

  44. 44
    Tehanu says:

    You left out my favorite bit:

    “See the halibuts and the sturgeons
    Being wiped out by detergents.
    Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly —
    But they don’t last long when they try!”

  45. 45
  46. 46
    Tehanu says:

    @Zapruder F. Mashtots, D.D.S. (Mumphrey, et al.):
    Maybe we won’t have to be quite that drastic. A little tarring and feathering would go a long way towards showing these assholes what, well, assholes they are.

  47. 47
    Capri says:



    Everybody in this country is used to cheap food. It drives all these crappy decisions and outcomes when it comes to production of our groceries. That’s the number 1 problem.

  48. 48
    Greyjoy says:

    @Zapruder F. Mashtots, D.D.S. (Mumphrey, et al.):

    Not to bring up “Atlas Shrugged” for the gazillionth time (or else, to make the obligatory daily reference to it) but this tendency is described in detail. It’s the reasons the railroads deteriorated in the first place.

    The really hilarious part is that Republicans think they’re the cure for this, not the cause.

  49. 49
    gex says:

    @Zapruder F. Mashtots, D.D.S. (Mumphrey, et al.): Not just ag is fighting this either. The bottled beverage industry LOVES it when people don’t like or trust tap water.

    @Capri: Closely related to our terrible labor policies. The arguments for keeping food cheap really tie in to our policies that keep wages low and stagnant.

  50. 50
    tBone says:


    @tBone: The bill is not ‘coming due after decades…”
    I remember 25+ years ago, going through rest stops on I-5 in the valley, seeing signs warning mothers not to use the water for formula or give to kids.
    It even mentioned that boiling the water would not help.
    This situation is more than 30 years old, and Democrat presidents and governors have not fixed it.
    It’s hard, and costs $$$ to fix.

    Didn’t mean to imply that it’s a brand new problem, but in a lot of areas, nitrate levels didn’t start exceeding health standards until fairly recently (the last 5-10 years), and there are lots of other places that don’t exceed health standards now but likely will in the relatively near future. It’s a problem that took decades to create and will take decades to solve.

  51. 51
    SatanicPanic says:

    I’ve taken a lot of shit lately for suggesting that genetically modifying plants to be more pest and drought resistant is a good thing, and I probably will here too, but yeah, we should be doing this. Because organic is not gonna happen for the majority of us.

  52. 52
    El Cid says:

    On top of all the other issues, I think it’s cute that it’s this poor bedraggled school district forced to pay for safe water for the children to drink although the school didn’t cause the problem.

    Privatize the profits, soshullize the toxins.

  53. 53
    titan3 says:

    but one of these kids has a wii so it means they aren´t poor so shut up

  54. 54
    Teejay says:

    Anne, beyond knowing who Gillespie and Summers are and recognizing a good dose of snark I don’t know what the connection is suppose to be. Are you alluding to a specific something that Gillespie said about something Summers did? You’ve got to fill us in better than you have.

  55. 55
    J R in WV says:

    Here in West Virginia, we have mining and the oil patch. We hear and feel huge explosions from time to time. The largest mountain-top removal mine is not far away. The run-off from Hobet is the headwater of the Mud River.

    The county has very little recreation facilities, and was delighted to get flood-protection grants to build a dam on the Upper Mud River, pasrtly flood control and partly recreation.

    There’s a hitch though – runoff from the huge mine is high in selenium, which causes the fish in the lake to concentrate selenium in their bodies. The fish and frogs have multiple deformities – multiple sex organs, extra pairs of legs, etc.

    An enviro friend was at the rec center, a beautiful spot with free canoes and kayaks for anyone to use, grassy gentle hills running down to the pretty water, pretty poisonous water. She saw a group of guys catching fish and icing them into buckets – for a fish fry picnic later that night.

    She tried to explain selenium contamination, and how the traces of the metal are concentrated in the fish, which they shouldn’t take home for their reproductive-age friends to eat, but they had already caught the fish – the friends were invited, the food was free, and they were not understanding Katy’s concern at all.

    I think they thought she was jealous they had caught so many, or something. They certainly didn’t think they were planning a birth-defect party for their girl friends! But that’s what was going to happen.

    Thanks, coal industry, for keeping the lights on!

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