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Non-profit finds solutions to Monterey County’s water quality problems

KION

MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. (KION) Water quality seems to be a problem in several parts of Monterey county. According to Royal Oak resident, Enrique Serrano, he hasn’t had clean water in nearly 40 years.

“When we shower, there's something--- our skin feel a bit tight...that’s what we started to notice. and our plants, they start to turn brown because of the nitrate.”

He said that in a study made in 1999, the nitrate levels in his home reached 530 milligrams per liter. But in California, the maximum contaminant level for nitrate in drinkable water is 45 milligrams per liter. That’s almost ten times above the state’s public health recommended limits.

A recent study found 103 milligrams of nitrate in their water which is almost double the amount permitted in California.

According to experts, the high levels of contaminants like nitrate have been known to cause serious health issues. For example, nitrates in water can react with red blood cells, making it hard for them to carry oxygen throughout our body causing illnesses like blue baby syndrome in infants along with other complications in the long run.

Isabelle Gutierrez is a water chemistry laboratory analyst for Monterey Bay Analytical Services MBAS. She said there’s two ways our water gets contaminated: from the surface of lakes and rivers and groundwater.

Now, why is there such a high level of contaminants in the water?

“If you’re living in an area where there’s a lot of agriculture,” Gutierrez said. “However, I can say with confidence -- and I’ve even told my own family -- that we test a lot of samples in the county and the state regional water board measure and Monterey County itself requires these systems to have their stuff tested. So things are constantly being tested. Things are constantly being monitored.”

According to Gutierrez, some of the contaminants found in our groundwater are nitrates, bacteria, fluoride, 123tcp, uranium and arsenic.

Mayra Hernandez, who is the community solutions advocate at the Community Water Center, said if three or more houses in Monterey County share a water well, the county is responsible for testing the water quality. And if the county finds high levels of contaminants, it’s their responsibility to tell the homeowners.

“There are many systems that are monitored by Monterey that are out of compliance,” Hernandez said. “Unfortunately, it’s our low income communities that live in these areas primarily communities of color and so it’s very worrisome because not only are they low income, but they have to find ways to obtain safe and affordable drinking water which can be very costly.”

How do you know you have a private well?

If you already pay a water bill then you are part of a shared public water system and not a private well.

But the Community Water Center provides affected communities with bottled water to more than 150 homes in the central coast twice a week. Most of them are found in north Monterey County, but parts of San Benito and Santa Cruz too. 

As far as long term solutions, you can either connect your home to public water pipes or install water filters.

“Water is a humane right and it’s not a privilege,” Hernadez said. “Everyone should have affordable, safe, and clean drinking water.”

If you want to learn more about the quality of your water, companies are required to provide an annual consumer confidence report, or CCR Either contact your water company directly or visit their website to get a copy of the detailed report.

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Melody Waintal

Melody Waintal is the Digital Content Reporter at KION News Channel 5/46.

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