California may adopt “pump-and-fertilize” approach

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The fertilizer-tainted water under the San Joaquin Valley could be a boon for agriculture instead of a bane. Last week, the University of California released a study showing that rural drinking water in California’s central valley was tainted with fertilizer. The study found that farm cropland is responsible for 96 percent of the contaminated water beneath the valley.

Despite the bad news revealed by the study, there is an upside to the news. The contaminated water is laced with nitrates, which could be pumped and used as fertilizer on crops. The approach is being dubbed “pump-and-fertilize.”

The “pump-and-fertilize” approach is not a silver bullet, however. It is only a tool, said UC Davis hydrologist Thomas Harter. “It wouldn’t work in areas where there is too much salt in the groundwater, for example, because salt would harm crops.”

Harter conducted a study on the technique and plans to present his findings to state lawmakers soon. The new approach could impact state law as the agriculture industry is becoming more accountable for groundwater contamination.

The reported that some farmers already are using a pump-and-fertilize approach, testing their well water for nitrates and using less fertilizer if possible. That practice could become more widespread.

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