| SACRAMENTO, Calif.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. Feb 18 California's drought
has put 10 communities at acute risk of running out of drinking
water in 60 days, and worsened numerous other health and safety
problems, public health officials in the most populous U.S.
state said on Tuesday.
Rural communities where residents rely on wells are at
particular risk, as contaminants in the groundwater become more
concentrated with less water available to dilute them, top state
health officials said at a legislative hearing on the drought.
"The drought has exacerbated existing conditions," said Mark
Starr, deputy director of the California Department of Public
The state has helped about 22 of 183 communities identified
last year as reliant on contaminated groundwater to bring their
supplies into conformance with environmental guidelines, but the
rest are still building or preparing to build systems, he said.
The contamination warning comes days after President Barack
Obama announced nearly $200 million in aid for the parched
state, including $60 million for food banks to help people
thrown out of work in agriculture-related industries as farmers
leave fields unplanted and ranchers sell cattle early because
the animals have no grass for grazing.
The California Farm Bureau estimates the overall impact of
idled farmland will run to roughly $5 billion, from in direct
costs of lost production and indirect effects through the
Last month, Democratic Governor Jerry Brown declared a state
of emergency, as reservoir levels dipped to all-time lows with
little rain or snow in the forecast.
On Tuesday, the state's top public health officials said
they were targeting 10 communities for immediate relief,
trucking in water when necessary and helping to lay pipes
connecting residents with nearby public water systems.
Worst hit is the small city of Willits in the northern part
of the state, public health director Ron Chapman said. Also
targeted for priority help included tiny water systems
throughout the state, one so small it serves 55 people in a
community listed simply as Whispering Pines Apartments.
"Small drinking water systems are especially vulnerable to
drought conditions," the public health department said on its
website. "They have fewer customers, which can mean fewer
options in terms of resources like funding and infrastructure."
STAGNANT POOLS, CONTAMINATED WELLS
Linda Rudolph, co-director for the Center for Climate Change
and Health in Oakland and a former state health official, said
millions of Californians rely on wells and other sources of
groundwater where the concentration of contaminants is growing
because of dry conditions.
"Many groundwater basins in California are contaminated, for
example with nitrates from over application of nitrogen
fertilizer or concentrated animal feeding operations, with
industrial chemicals, with chemicals from oil extraction or due
to natural contaminants with chemicals such as arsenic," Rudolph
In addition, as dry conditions turn ponds and creeks into
stagnant pools, mosquitos breed, and risk increases for the
diseases they carry, she said at the hearing. Residents with
asthma and other lung conditions are also at risk as dry
conditions create dust.
The state's firefighters put out 400 blazes during the first
three weeks of January, normally the state's wettest season and
its slowest for wildfires, according to the California
Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
"We are experiencing conditions right now that we would
usually see in August," its website quoted Chief Ken Pimlott as
(Editing by Richard Borsuk)