In a Dry State, Farmers Use Oil Wastewater to Irrigate Their Fields, but is it Safe?

In a Dry State, Farmers Use Oil Wastewater to Irrigate Their Fields, but is it Safe?

Produced Water From Drilling in California is Irrigating Kern County Crops

California struggles with frequent, intense and long lasting droughts. In order to grow crops in times of little or no precipitation, many farmers rely on irrigation with groundwater. In some areas, especially the Central Valley, so much water has been pumped that aquifers can’t get recharged and groundwater supplies don’t get replenished.

In order to keep their crops productive, some farmers have looked for alternative water sources, like wastewater from various industrial operations.

Some bigger farmers have turned to the controversial practice of irrigating their crops with produced water – wastewater from oil and gas drilling operations – mixed with other irrigation water, when they find themselves with little or no rainwater and groundwater sources are overused or restricted.

A new study published in the journal “Science of the Total Environment” has evaluated the impact of the using produced water on crops and concluded that “the concentrations of boron, salt, radionuclides and other chemicals in samples of water and soil in Kern County’s Cawelo Water District met safety standards for irrigation water.” Study authors noted that some chemicals could build up in soil to levels that could threaten soil health, and they urged longer term studies to evaluate potential health effects.

Not everyone is satisfied with the results, however. Environmental Working Group’s Bill Allayaud, lamented that, “We waited years for this report and the main conclusion was “‘we need more study.”

FoodPrint wrote about this topic in 2017, and in 2018, Food and Water Watch launched a campaign to stop the practice. They produced a list of companies that use the wastewater, including Halos Mandarins, POM Wonderful pomegranate juice, Wonderful pistachios, Sunview Raisins, Bee Sweet citrus and Sutter Home wine. We’ve previously written about the Wonderful empire, owned by one of America’s biggest farmers – Stewart Resnick, a prominent Central Valley farmer who has used produced water on his crops for years.

The issue will likely not go away any time soon, as climate change will likely only increase the duration and severity of droughts in America’s agricultural centers like California’s Central Valley. Studies like this only serve to muddy the already murky water with unclear conclusions. Vulnerable people should consider their options when they make their produce buying decisions.

[Inside Climate News]