California governor signs bills to tackle state's water crisis
SACRAMENTO Oct 8 (Reuters) - California Governor Jerry Brown on Tuesday signed more than a dozen bills aimed at easing access to water in the state, where drought is common and tension is high over the competing needs of residents, agriculture and the environment.
The new laws attempt to address some of the most immediate concerns, including the difficulty faced by small communities when local groundwater becomes polluted or is over-pumped. The measures also address growing interest in California in finding ways to safely recycle wastewater so that it can be used again for drinking and cooking.
"California needs more high quality water, and recycling is key to getting there," Brown, a Democrat, said in his signing message. To speed the effort, Brown also proposed consolidating the responsibility for all water-quality programs under a single agency, the state Water Resources Board.
Water has long been a sore point in California, where the precious resource has been diverted from mountain lakes and streams to irrigate farms and slake the thirst of metropolitan areas around Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Among the most difficult problems to emerge in recent years has been the pollution of groundwater in communities throughout the state, either because it has been over-pumped or because chemicals used in agriculture or other businesses have leached into the water table.
Assemblyman Luis Alejo, a Democrat who sponsored three of the bills, said such pollution is common in the agricultural communities that he represents in Monterey County. One of the measures signed by Brown would authorize grants for poor communities that need funds to clean up their drinking water or find emergency replacements.
"There is a small community of less than 500 people where their entire water system was recently put under a court order that they can no longer drink it because of high levels of nitrates," Alejo said.
Among the problems in the county from drinking water with high levels of nitrates has been "blue baby syndrome," in which infants lose oxygen from their blood, Alejo said. Some families have mistakenly believed that boiling the water would help, he said, only to find that evaporation actually increased the levels of nitrates in the liquid.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Steve Orlofsky)
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