Cal Poly experts working to solve drinking water problems in California

Jan 30, 2015

Experts at Cal Poly are starting work on a project to help disadvantaged communities in California access safe drinking water.

Cal Poly's ITRC Water Resource Facility
Credit Jordan Bell

The ongoing drought has left communities particularly those in California's Central Valley with two major problems: a lack of water, and the water they do have contains concentrated contaminates like nitrates.

Water is the main focus at Cal Poly's Irrigation Training and Research Center (ITRC) for Dr. Stuart Styles. He says because of the drought a lot of farmer's turned to groundwater, drying up surrounding wells.

The median household income in these areas  is less than 80 percent of the state median, so solution funding has been a problem. But earlier this year, the California Department of Water Resources stepped in and granted Cal Poly the money needed to help fix the problems.

Dr. Styles and ITRC members say they can now identify two communities that need their help the most.

"The only way to do a good evaluation is to get out and look at things and look at the physical characteristics. You can make a set of recommendations and the key to that is to talk to those individuals," said Dr. Styles.

He said the contract is designed to set up a protocol that can later serve other communities with the same problems.

"Currently the practice primarily has been to drill another well and find another groundwater source that hasn't been affected by contaminates and the issue is that they're running out of places to drill new wells," Dr. Styles said.

While the plans they develop might work in the short term, Styles said that if this drought stretches on for years, even these solutions could run dry.