Posted by: rainworks | November 22, 2014

RainBean System Design

Quality Harvested Rainwater requires a Harvesting Infrastructure that will insure the cleanest water at the Point of Entry (POE) of the water storage Cistern which can be stored over a ‘period of time’ for various uses; be it a non-potable, or a potable resource.

Harvested rainwater should be very clean and not contain; Debris (organic or inorganic), Metallic taste, Hard water tastes and smells, Pharmaceuticals, Pesticides, Herbicides, etc.

Rainwater has a pH generally around 5.6, it is still potable, but it will be slightly acidic (mildly corrosive). Aerating it (from bottom to top) will help increase the pH by increasing the CO2 (Carbon Dioxide), and O2 (Oxygen) introduced by aeration. A Neutral pH of about 7 is desirable. There are alternative additives that can be used to control pH levels, and a First Flush device works as well.

The Rainwater Harvesting Infrastructure – Top Down

Preliminary Infrastructure

The Roof: (should use licensed contractors)

Safety and Quality are paramount concerns. This includes equipment and professional knowhow, will generally have required community codes, permits, and inspections. Ensure your contractor is knowledgeable about the use of suitable materials for rainwater harvesting. (See references at bottom of this document.)

The Gutter and Downspouts: (should use licensed contractors)

Proper gutter sizing, knowledge of slope of roofs, normal rain intensity, distances between downspouts/roof perimeter, etc. Ensure your contractor is knowledgeable about the use of suitable materials for rainwater harvesting. The use of “Leaf Guards” is highly recommended. (See references at bottom of this document.)

RainBean System

Secondary Infrastructure

The Diverters:

The First Stage Diverter’s purpose is to remove large debris, such as; leaves, pine needles, twigs, seeds, roof particles, and other contaminants from getting to the pre-filter. The rejected debris is ejected into the downspout, while filling the Second Stage Diverter. This is accomplished through an 18 mesh (0.038in/0.97mm) stainless screen into the chamber containing the Pre-Filter.

The Second Stage Diverter serves two functions; self-cleaning of the Pre-Filter of much finer accumulated debris such as; smaller hayseeds, seed hulls, pollens, smaller roof particles, and directing that finer debris into the downspout, as the rain event recedes. (This eliminates much of the maintenance-required with other filter systems.) However, it is recommended that annual or semi-annual inspection or maintenance be undertaken, otherwise it may only require inspection just prior to normal rainy seasons.

The Pre-Filter

RainBean’s Pre-Filter system uses passive intake for ambient rainfall pressure to extract the rainwater from the Second Stage Diverter chamber, (which is potentially laden with even smaller debris that passed through the First Stage diverter). The Pre-Filter cartridges come in: 80-200 mesh (0.08in/0.18mm) – (0.0029in/0.07mm) in size and are user interchangeable.

At this point one may have about 95-98% rainwater Harvesting efficiency due to the minor diverter wash-off losses.

But then, that is not enough!

For the cleanest rainwater, a First Flush device was added to the RainBean System.

First Flush:

To further improve the quality of the rainwater going into the Cistern, a First Flush device became an integral part of the Harvesting Infrastructure.

This is typically a small tank, of which the initial Pre-Filtered rainwater is first collected during the initial roof wash off cycle (graywater). The tank is sized by a calculation of; roof footprint, roof material type coefficients, and pollution factors. Once that required calculated amount of rainwater fills the First Flush tank, a valve actuates and re-directs remaining Pre-Filtered, improved quality rainwater into the Cistern.

The purpose of RainBean’s First Flush is to collect and withhold any remaining initial cloudy roof wash off rainwater that can contain micro particulate, such as; dust, pollens, bacteria, decomposed insects, soluble bird and vermin droppings, roof/gutter material (Grit and heavy metals), and chemical pesticide and herbicide residue resulting in what can be called greywater.

During and after a rain event, the tank will slowly empty the resulting graywater via a 1-4 GPH drip fitting either directed to a storm drain or landscaping.

Rainwater storage:

A most serious concern when harvesting rainwater is to collect as much as possible when rain events occur.

  • The Cistern or tank farm sizing requires calculation of data: number of users, interior and exterior household water requirements. (Business and commercial clients should require similar calculations.)
  • Research is first required of existing Climate resources to prepare calculations for all rain events monthly and annually per the installation’s location. Monthly sizing should take into consideration the historic driest months of the year, and design the total storage capacity to use cumulative stored rainfall to withstand the needs for those drier months.
  • The RainBean System uses a Damping Aeration input pipe, maintaining oxygenation of the stored rainwater volume at various levels during intermittent rain events. The oxygenation helps destroy any possible harmful bacteria also known as anaerobic activity of which such bacteria cannot survive in a rich oxygen rich environment, and helps raise the pH.
  • The RainBean System also includes a tank overflow downspout, to be the same size as the POE input size. It also uses a simple PVC Backwater Valve to prevent insects and other vermin from entering the cistern from the overflow downspout.

RainBean System Materials:

  • SDR-26 PVC pipe, Schedule 40 PVC pipe and fittings with NSF–pw (Potable Water rating), and Stainless steel screens.
  • The RainBean Slim 3 has a 4” diameter input coupling, which accepts various size gutter input connections, using COTS adapters for 3” diameter, 2” x 3” and 3” X 4” roof downspouts.
  • The bottom has a 3” downspout connection and a 3” connection to the POE of the Cistern.
  • The RainBean is paintable to match any color scheme.
RainBean Slim 3 with Adpt

RainBean Slim 3 with Adpt


The RainBean can be mounted on a standalone pipe or downspout, or mounted to the exterior wall near the gutter output. The RainBean is first connected to the gutter, secondly it is connected to the First Flush Unit, and then to the Cistern. For overflow, it can be connected to the RainBean downspout, or connect to a separate downspout,

A complete installation manual will be included with each RainBean System.

Photo Report During One Rain Event

RainBean instal with labels

RainBean System Configuration

  1. RainBean Dual Stage Diverter/Pre-Filter
  2. Pre-Filter Output
  3. First Flush Tank
  4. End of First Flush – Valve
  5. Clean Water Input Damping Aerator
  6. RainBean Debris discharge downspout
  7. Overflow – with insect, vermin entry protection

RainBean top view

Top view of a RainBean System Configuration

One Rain Event: two roofs, showing capture efficiency.

RainBean Debris discharge downspout showing only dual diverter discharge and First Flush Dripper

RainBean Debris discharge downspout

Rear roof (640 sq. ft), “Rainwater captured”. Diverter discharge and First Flush dripper discharge. (Balance of rain entered Cistern.)


Front roof (537 sq. ft), “NO capture”. All rain directed to a storm drain at same time during the one rain event.

First Month of Harvest Data

(To be announced)

Using Rainwater from the Cistern, Point of Use (POU)

Plumber for POU: (should use licensed contractors)

At the POU Cistern output, it is recommended to include a .5 micron Carbon Block filter which will remove cysts such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium, most chemicals, and carbon black particulate (from fossil fuel exhaust). Add a UV filter, for the ultimate sanitization. If attaching to an internal home potable fresh water system while using a public water service, the addition of a back-flow preventer is highly recommended, and is required by law in many locations.


Consumed with my past practical experiences (including failures), learning new and innovative techniques, and with continued research to understand how important rainwater Harvesting is a life saving resource on a highly populated planet. I have designed and built several prototypes to create a quality Rainwater Harvesting System. There always seemed to be just one more component to add or modify. On a limited budget, this latest system design has completed my goal of creating the best of rainwater Harvesting Infrastructures, lead me to finally file for a patent and start testing my final system designs.

A quality built Rain Water Harvesting infrastructure will provide clean water to the storage Cistern(s). Proper sizing of the Cistern(s) should provide clean Rain Water throughout the year. My goal is to achieve a global Rain Water Harvesting System to help stabilize the availability of clean fresh water resources for the inhabitants of this planet. The System will be composed of supplying various kit components, fittings, and instructions to contractors, off the grid customers, and DIY enthusiasts.

Three models of the RainBean will be available.

The RainBean Slim 3, a vertical model, suitable for a roof footprint up to 750 sq. ft.

The RainBean Plus 3, a horizontal model, suitable for a roof footprint up to 1200 sq. ft.

The RainBean Ultra 4, a horizontal model, suitable for a roof footprint up to 2000 sq. ft.

As well, various other required system components will be packaged in several boxes, whether a new complete system, or retrofit an existing preliminary infrastructure. The user need only complete the preliminary infrastructure, size and purchase appropriate storage Cisterns, needed lengths of pipe, install a secure base for above ground Cisterns or in ground Cisterns.

Software Application:

A software application is in development for the PC and Smartphone. This App will help provide the user with the ability to calculate;

  • Roof footprint
  • Roof material type coefficients
  • Pollution factors
  • Size the Cistern(s) for; domestic, agricultural, and commercial facilities
  • Provide component(s) installation metrics; gutter to ground, First Flush, etc
  • Water demands; Indoor and outdoor water use as per user requirements
  • Garden and Landscaping water use for Drip Irrigation components
  • Utilize global climate/weather resources for users location

I welcome comments and questions on this post, and I will maintain future updates.


(Prefiltration standards Linkedin ARCSA)

Denis Rochat

President at rainwater Resources

IGCC 2012 calls for 1500 microns of pre-filtration, ARCSA/ASPE calls for 500 (.5 mm). We utilize Vortex filtration that filters to 280 microns and provides extreme oxygenation. Both are critical for healthy stored water. Successful systems require several steps that make up a process and none can be ignored. I saw a 10,000 gal RWH storage in Roanoke, VA that had not been cleaned for 7 years and provides slime free, odor free, color free water every day. That’s the goal.

American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association ARCSA – Resources and Documents

Texas Water Development Board The Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting

Posted by: rainworks | January 1, 2013


What the GMO industry do not want you to know. You only need to ask; why there is so much news about the decline of FOOD resources on this planet. Agra business will not give up on its search to control the food supply.

People can change, cultures can change, and neighborhoods too. Local grown, and marketed foods will help bring people together in a sustainable way of life. At the same time American energy consumption will be greatly reduced with the lack of trucks, refrigerated warehouses, and the like.

Please watch the following, and ponder what you can do in your own back yard, Rain Gardens, bio-swales, deck, or patio kitchen gardens. Mind you, it doesn’t have to be a desert.

Posted by: rainworks | September 14, 2012

Drought Update, Water Restrictions, and more

Maybe I’ve been delinquent in adding posts, but here is one well worth mentioning. I have followed the Texas RWH; concepts, programs, and implementations for years.

Drought Update, Water Restrictions, and Hot Rain: Water News Summary 9/4/12

Water News Summary for September 4, 2012 – Water restrictions in central Texas as drought continues, water policies needed for true conservation.

Thanks to:

Chris Maxwell-Gaines, P.E.

Water Conservation Systems & Sustainable Infrastructure Civil Engineer / Green Entrepreneur

Austin, Texas Area

Owner and Civil Engineer at Innovative Water Solutions LLC



Posted by: rainworks | May 20, 2012

Where has All the fresh water gone.


About 15 feet below ground, the writer makes his way through a tight spot in a cave during his trip to see evidence of falling groundwater levels in the region.

  • Has the natural rainwater recharging system been diverted to Stormwater discharge?

RWH and gray water use will provide for a more natural recharge of our Ground Water and Aquifer resources.

  • Has the use of underground water resources for irrigation and residential and Industrial development dried up our natural Aquifers?

Require agricultural users to create their own reservoirs and Industrial washing applications to also require private reservoirs and promote RWH and greywater use.

  • Do these activities contribute to the increase of Sinkholes? Without a doubt!

See the following news article relating to the above photo.

Dry empty caves offer to grim proof of Tampa Bays groundwater decline

By Dan DeWitt, Times Columnist May 20, 2012
In Print: Sunday, May 20, 2012

In Thornton’s Cave, in southern Sumter County, you see beams of light streaming through holes in the ceiling, worn by thousands of years of steadily flowing water.

You see that the bottom half of the tunnel is almost as white as chalk, scoured by that same steady flow.

At the end of the one-third-mile-long cave, you see where the spring run once emerged. And you see that the run’s bed is not only dry, but covered by grass, weeds and opportunistic seedlings.

“I used to be afraid of this cave because you had to worry about cottonmouths and alligators,” Robert Brooks said with a shrug, meaning, obviously, that’s not a problem now.

Brooks, 38, has been wriggling into every crack in the earth he could find since he was a 10-year-old kid growing up in Brooksville.

We hear from the Southwest Florida Water Management District about the steadily declining groundwater levels, now nearly 2 feet below the bottom of the normal range for this time of year.

Brooks, one of the most experienced cavers in the state, recently led me and Times photographer Will Vragovic to see this decline.

Our view under the ground — at Thornton’s and at Crumbling Rock Cave in southern Citrus County — was as grim as the sight of the steadily shrinking rivers and lakes on the surface.

Or more so, because groundwater isn’t supposed to be as prone to fluctuation and is, of course, the source of almost all of the state’s drinking water.

One other thing, unsurprisingly, is the same above ground and below: the cause of the falling water levels, which is pumping and a long-term slump in rainfall.

Both caves are in Swiftmud’s Northern District, which includes Hernando and five other counties to the north and east. There, the amount of water pumped increased by 42 percent, to 163 million gallons a day, between 1990 to 2006, when demand started to decline slightly because of the flagging economy.

The historical average rainfall, compiled over the past three decades, is 53.5 inches per year. Since 1990, the annual total has been less than that 14 times, including each of the past six years.

Of course, back in the 1960s, that historical average was at least 2 inches higher, about 55 inches, a mark hit even less frequently in recent years.

So by visiting the cave in the middle of a severe drought, we weren’t seeing rare conditions, but ones that are recurring again and again.

“It’s like we’re in a drought, things briefly improve, and then we’re back in it again,” said Granville Kinsman, manager of the district’s hydrologic data section.

Kinsman also produced data showing that average rainfall was on an upward trend before 1960, suggesting the more recent downward one is part of a natural cycle.

Other theories are that the decreasing rainfall is tied to the loss of wetlands in Florida — “the rainmaking machine,” former Swiftmud executive director Sonny Vergara called it. Or that it’s related to global climate change.

But at this point, nobody really knows. And nobody I talked to at either Swiftmud or the much better-funded South Florida Water Management District has made a concerted effort to find out.

Which can’t go on.

Because whatever amount of pumping the district is allowing is too much.

It would probably be too much even if we were receiving steady doses of normal rain. It’s definitely too much if we’re dealing with a long-term decline.

Which is sure what it looks like underground.

The entrance to Crumbling Rock is a little like an old-fashioned well — a vertical shaft barely big enough to fit a bucket — and it used to lead directly to water.

Once Brooks had dropped a cable ladder down the shaft, and we had climbed down, he pointed to a coffee-colored water line that showed the usual level of the former underground stream.

“You would have been crawling with your chin just above water,” said Brooks, who has been exploring this cave for the past six years.

Every year, the water level has dropped, and on our visit we encountered only a few puddles and some ankle-deep mud.

“With the rain we’re getting, we’re ending every year in a deficit, and yet we’re taking the same amount out,” Brooks said.

“If you treated your bank account that way, you’d be broke. And our aquifer is broke.”

Maybe not yet. But it’s getting there.

Posted by: rainworks | May 8, 2012

No Sustainable Planning leads to Failure

Americas INFRASTRUCTURE was planned for failure, officials were not visionaries for the future.

The existing public/private Water Works have been a waste of Taxpayers money for every 50 years. The systems are also then over taxed because of increased Development and additional manufacturing. The water systems should only supply drinking water. Let the Industries drill their own wells. Re-use their water as Gray water. Or make use of their Roof Tops, Parking Lots, etc. as rain catchment and retention  infrastructure, and maintain it instead of washing down the parking lots and streets with Storm-water discharge. Use of this alone would reduce the overall increased pressure from Water Works that the 40-50 year old  system can not handle. Use of Rain Water Harvesting is the most beneficial resourse every American can get access to. They too will need local labor to install a Clean Water Catchment Infrastrusture point of Entry (POE); Roofs, Gutters, 1st Wash, and then; Capture, Filter, UV light sanitization, for Point of Use (POU). This would benefit the whole community with less pressure on existing Under the Street Infrastructure, less seepage and sink holes. AS well, it would provide super clean healthy drinking water. The resulting water discharge into a gray water system could be used to flush toilets and moderated Ground Water Re-charge. reducing Stormwater discharge. Who gets to profit from this? Residential roofing, plumbing, and landscapeing Companies, with Real Shovel Ready JOBs.

Please note the following article.

Fiscal crunch puts stress on Tampa’s aging water system

By KEVIN WIATROWSKI | The Tampa Tribune 
Published: May 08, 2012

TAMPA City water managers on Monday lifted the weekend boil-water order for customers north of Fowler Avenue, three days after a ruptured water main left thousands of New Tampa homes and businesses dry.

Friday’s line break was the latest public failure of Tampa’s aging water system.

A year ago, city residents from Beach Park to New Tampa were enraged by eye-popping water bills the city initially attributed to excessive lawn watering.

In 2006, a water main break beneath the Hillsborough River dumped 100,000 gallons of drinking water into the river for three days.

In 2002, a water main break near Tampa International Airport turned Memorial Highway into a river for an afternoon.

Such utility collapses are becoming increasingly common across the country as aging water lines and other systems reach the end of their lives, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The problem coincides with the aftermath of the recession, when falling tax rolls and strained public budgets make it hard for cities such as Tampa to afford the high cost of replacing critical infrastructure, said Greg diLoreto, the society’s president-elect.

“It’s more universal than we think,” said diLoreto, who runs a water utility near Portland, Ore.

In recent years, the society has given the nation’s utilities, roads, bridges and levees borderline-failing grades as they grow more overwhelmed by the demands placed upon them. Like the New Tampa water line, much of that failing infrastructure dates to the 1970s or before.

“The stuff we put in the ’70s we thought would hold up for a long time,” diLoreto said.

Under Mayor Pam Iorio, Tampa began a $100 million project to update its aging water and sewer systems. That project led to crews tearing up city streets in downtown and elsewhere to install new pipes. The city has replaced 88 miles of water mains.

City crews have been adding new water lines parallel to Bruce B. Downs Boulevard as part of the widening of New Tampa’s main traffic artery. The new water line replaces the 40-year-old one that ruptured Friday.

Brad Baird, head of the city’s water department, said Friday the city was two weeks away from replacing the ruptured segment when it failed.

The failure affected about a half-million people from Busch Gardens and the University of South Florida north to the Pasco County line. The city lifted a boil-water advisory Monday.

Water department spokesman Eli Franco said the city had targeted the Bruce B. Downs line for replacement because of its age and a lack of alternatives.

After the blowout, crews accelerated the schedule for bringing the new pipe online, doing in about a half-day what was supposed to take two weeks.

“In this particular case, we were very fortunate that the lion’s share of the work was in place,” Franco said.

The speed with which the city restored water service in New Tampa helped keep the outage from becoming a fiasco on the scale of last year’s billing problems, which led Mayor Bob Buckhorn to expand the city’s meter-reading staff.

Tampa Palms resident Randy Marlowe said his initial reaction to the line break was exasperation. But later he reconsidered that response.

“One you realize the size of the line and the number of people affected, I’m quite impressed,” Marlowe said. “The restoration was much faster than expected.”

Posted by: rainworks | May 2, 2012

SOS – A “human tidal wave” on the move

People helping People, No government or Corporate Bureaucracy. Its not quite Appalachia but close to it.


Why the SOS?

A heavily populated indigenous “homeland” is just to the south of us, but like many “homelands” set aside for indigenous people it’s extremely poor.

Large dams started construction where we work, attracting thousands of indigenous men — and their families — in search of jobs and medical help often unavailable in their homeland. Thousands of school-aged children came with their parents.

Posted by: rainworks | April 6, 2012

Operation Safe Drinking Water – does it again!

From  Joe Bass

FOCUSING ON MAINLAND SCHOOLS which are much larger than island schools.
Schools are often double or triple the size of island schools. Valle Risco has 985 students. (We installed a 5-tank MEGA SYSTEM for them.Image

Photo – La Gloria has 500 – plus students and a mega-system from OSDW

For more go to!/safewaterguy

Posted by: rainworks | March 26, 2012

The Living Bridge, a dramatic sustainable feature

A way of working with nature, and it beats the heck out of Concrete and Steel! 

Posted by: rainworks | March 20, 2012

More negative input concerning bottled water

Low doses of BPA are worse for you than high doses

By Sarah Laskow

19 Mar 2012 10:24 AM

The pesticide and plastics industry have a lot invested in the safety of chemicals like bisphenol A and atrazine. Such “endocrine-disrupting” chemicals mimic human hormones, and research has tied them to health problems like cancer and infertility. But these industries have always held up studies that look at exposure to huge doses of endocrine disruptors. In massive quantities, the industries point out, these chemicals don’t cause problems. Therefore, they must be safe.

But those huge doses may actually obscure the chemicals’ effects, a new study argues. Endocrine-disrupting compounds “can have effects at low doses that are not predicted by effects at higher doses,” the authors write. In other words, low levels of exposure to these chemicals — like the levels that you’d get from, say, drinking water out of a BPA-laced plastic bottle — can have worse effects than high levels of exposure.

It’s a little confusing, because we’ve been trained to assume that more chemicals equal more problems. But some chemicals affect our bodies differently in small and large doses. Environmental Health News pulls out this example:

The breast cancer drug tamoxifen “provides an excellent example for how high-dose testing cannot be used to predict the effects of low doses,” according to the report. At low doses, it stimulates breast cancer growth. At higher ones, it inhibits it.

Industries that rely on these chemicals also claim to have proven that low doses aren’t dangerous. But the study authors aren’t buying those claims:

vom Saal and other scientists have said that tests that do not find low-dose effects of chemicals such as BPA are often industry-funded, and they often have tested the wrong animals or the wrong doses, or don’t expose the animals during the most vulnerable time of fetal growth …

“There truly are no safe doses for chemicals that act like hormones, because the endocrine system is designed to act at very low levels,” Vandenberg, a postdoctoral fellow at Tufts University’s Levin Lab Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology, told Environmental Health News.

Believe whoever you want, but given industry’s long history of funding obfuscating research on health issues like these, it’s probably safer to side with the scientists.


Sarah Laskow is a reporter based in New York City who covers environment, energy, and sustainability issues, among other things. Follow her on Twitter.

Posted by: rainworks | March 13, 2012

Farming communities – Ground Water Dangers

Ground water Farming communities facing crisis over nitrate pollution, study says

 Solution: They should consider Rain Water Harvesting!

“People were dying, and we didn’t know who was going to be next,” Sonia Lopez, shown with and her son, Leonardo, said of the health problems that she saw in the years after the family moved into the San Jerardo Cooperative in Salinas, Calif.,

By Stett Holbrook

Food & Environment Reporting Network

Nitrate contamination in groundwater from fertilizer and animal manure is severe and getting worse for hundreds of thousands of residents in California’s Central Valley farming communities, according to a study released Tuesday by researchers at the University of California, Davis.

Nearly 10 percent of the 2.6 million people living in the Tulare Lake Basin and Salinas Valley might be drinking nitrate-contaminated water, researchers found. And if nothing is done to stem the problem, the report warns, nearly 80 percent of residents could be at risk of health and financial problems by 2050.

High nitrate levels in drinking water are known to cause thyroid cancer, skin rashes, hair loss, birth defects and “blue baby syndrome,” a potentially fatal blood disorder in infants.

The report is the most comprehensive assessment so far of nitrate contamination in California’s agricultural areas.

“The problem is much, much, much worse than we thought,” said Angela Schroeter, agricultural regulatory program manager for the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, a state water agency.

Nitrate-contaminated water is a well-documented fact in many of California’s farming communities.

The agricultural industry, however, has maintained that it is not solely responsible because nitrates come from many sources. While the report focused on California, nitrates in groundwater is a problem that plagues farming communities around the U.S.

But, according to the UC Davis report, 96 percent of nitrate contamination comes from agriculture, while only 4 percent can be traced to water treatment plants, septic systems, food processing, landscaping and other sources.

A financial hit as well

In addition to health risks, tainted water will exact a growing financial toll, the report said. The researchers project that utilities and citizens in the two regions will pay $20 million to $36 million per year for water treatment and alternative supplies for the next 20 years or more.

According to the study, more than 1.3 million people in the two areas currently face increased costs as residents seek alternative sources of water and providers pass on the costs of treatment to ratepayers.

The five counties in the study area – among the top 10 agricultural producing counties in the United States – include about 40 percent of California’s irrigated cropland and more than half of its dairy herds, representing a $13.7 billion slice of the state’s economy.

Water pours from a kitchen tap in a San Jerardo Cooperative home near Salinas, Calif.

The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has produced several reports of its own that show “large-scale degradation” of drinking water aquifers due to nitrates from fertilizer.

“If we don’t address this, we’re going to have a very serious issue in California,” Schroeter said.

Nitrates are odorless, tasteless compounds that form when nitrogen from ammonia and other sources mix with water. While nitrogen and nitrates occur naturally, the advent of synthetic fertilizer has coincided with a dramatic increase in nitrates in drinking water.

Rural residents are at greater risk because they depend on private wells, which are often shallower and not monitored to the same degree as public water sources. Current contamination likely came from nitrates introduced into the soil decades ago. That means even if nitrates were dramatically reduced today, groundwater would still remain polluted for decades to come.

According to the report, removing nitrates from large groundwater basins is extremely costly and not technically feasible. One relatively low-cost alternative is called “pump and fertilize:” Pulling nitrate-saturated water out of the ground and applying it to crops at the right time to ensure more complete nitrate uptake.

Representatives of the California Farm Bureau Federation, the state’s largest agricultural association, would not comment on the report until it was released. But in a written statement, spokesman Dave Kranz said farmers and ranchers have worked on better nitrate management for years.

“Clean drinking water is a high priority for everyone, especially people who live in rural areas,” Kranz said. “Most farmers live where they work and want to be certain that they, their families, their employees, and their neighbors have access to safe water.”

Farmers and ranchers will continue to adapt to new information, technology and science to address nitrate problems, he said. But he said it’s important to “make sure nitrate management programs look at all possible sources to achieve the goal of safe drinking water.”

The safety of groundwater, which is the largest source of drinking water, is managed through the state’s Clean Water Act. But each source of contamination is handled differently, says Schroeter of the Central Coast water board, and agriculture is more lightly regulated than other industries.

‘People were dying’

For the 250 people living in San Jerardo, a farmworker cooperative southeast of Salinas, the threat posed by nitrates is all too familiar. San Jerardo residents live in refurbished old barracks that have been converted into tidy homes.

Sonia Lopez moved into San Jerardo with her parents and five siblings in 1987. The four-bedroom, four-bathroom house was a big improvement over the two-bedroom apartment they once shared. “This was our American dream,” she said.

But something went wrong about nine years ago. Her skin became red and itchy. Her eyes burned. Her hair started falling out. Her family had the same symptoms, and she learned other San Jerardo residents were afflicted, too.

“I got very concerned because some of the residents started passing away from cancers,” she said. “People were dying, and we didn’t know who was going to be next.”

Horacio Amezquita stands beside the water supply for San Jerardo Cooperative in Salinas, Calif. The water is piped in from a clean well two miles away.

While they did not find a cause for the cancers, Lopez and fellow resident Horacio Amezquita learned from health officials that nitrates in their well water had made their eyes red and their hair fall out.

The community also learned that its water had been contaminated with nitrates since at least 1990; over the years, three wells had been drilled and eventually were found to be tainted. Drinking water regulations limit nitrates to less than 45 parts per million. One well measured 106 ppm, or more than double the limit.

After repeatedly asking Monterey County officials to help, Lopez and Amezquita finally got a filtration system in 2006, and in 2010, the community connected to a new well two miles away that doesn’t need to be purified. The cost to Monterey County was about $5 million. San Jerardo residents used to pay about $25 a month for water; now, they pay as much as $130 a month.

Lopez still worries about her health, and like the UC Davis researchers, she warns the nitrate problem will only get worse.

“Our problem is going to be your problem,” she said. “It’s everyone’s problem. There are solutions, but we need the people in charge of our communities to do something about it.”

UC Davis hydrologist Thomas Harter led the team of researchers from the Center for Watershed Sciences that prepared the report, which took 20 months to complete and involved 26 scientists. The report had been requested by the Legislature in 2008.

Water-quality experts said the study provides a new and comprehensive look into the sources of the contamination, the chemicals in the water and the people affected.

Laurel Firestone, co-executive director of Tulare County’s Community Water Center, a nonprofit that helps communities with poor drinking water, said not only does the study show that the nitrate problem isn’t limited to a few isolated rural communities, but it also places responsibility squarely on agriculture’s shoulders. Firestone hopes there will now be the political will to tackle the issue.

“This isn’t a new problem,” she said. “We’ve known it for decades, but we’ve failed to do anything about it.”

Fertilizer fee suggested

The report lists a few potential solutions to help pay for the cleanup of contaminated water, including a fee on fertilizer sales and greater “mill fees” on the production of fertilizer. In California, farmers do not pay sales tax on fertilizer, while water districts and communities bear the cost of cleaning up tainted wells.

Firestone said a fertilizer fee could be a powerful tool because there’s currently no disincentive to use fertilizer and few incentives to switch to safer agricultural practices.

“I think it’s clear that to address this problem, we need agriculture to lead the way,” she said.

Because of the might of the state’s agricultural industry, there has been little political will to tackle the nitrate problem. It will be up to the Legislature to decide how to respond to Harter’s report, but regulatory change might be coming as soon as this week.

The Central Coast water board, one of several regional water agencies that enforce the state’s Clean Water Act, will hold a highly anticipated meeting on Wednesday to decide on new agricultural regulations aimed at reducing the release of nitrates, pesticides and other chemicals into aquifers, as well as creeks, rivers, lakes and the Pacific Ocean.

“We justify these regulations based on very severe threats to water quality,” said Schroeter. “We have the most toxic water in the state.”

Despite the report’s grim news, water policy expert Jennifer Clary said she believes change is coming. She is a program manager for Clean Water Action, a national environmental advocacy group. She said the Central Coast water board’s plan would be a first step toward regulating groundwater contamination.

While she said the proposed rules aren’t perfect, “It’s going to be better than nothing. You can’t continue with nothing.”

Harter, the UC Davis researcher, said the study’s long-term projections for nitrate contamination reveal “just how extensive and interconnected these impacts are.” While his report outlined a number of policy choices, he doesn’t recommend one particular course of action.

“We can certainly do better, but it’s going to take an investment that we will all have to share. … That’s a discussion I hope we have.”

This article was produced by the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an independent and nonprofit investigative news organization.

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