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Waste from dairies among Tulare Lake contaminants, say water experts

Kerry Klein

ALEX BURKE, HOST: According to the CEO of Western United Dairies, five dairies so far have been forced to evacuate from the rising Tulare Lake. But despite public concerns about contamination in the lake, KVPR’s Kerry Klein reports dairy manure is just one of several things lurking in the water.

KERRY KLEIN: Floodwater is pretty gross, according to Patrick Pulupa of the Central Valley water board.

PATRICK PULUPA: You always want to be careful with flood flows, and there’s bacteria coming from everywhere.

KLEIN: That “everywhere” includes human waste, bird waste, soil pathogens and fertilizers. And although manure is in that mix, it’s diluted by the tremendous amount of water flowing in. Pulupa says it’s likely no more potent of a contaminant than anything else. Kyle Jones of the non-profit Community Water Center agrees about manure at the surface. But where manure could become a problem, he says, is if nitrates from the waste get carried by floodwater into the underground aquifers.

KYLE JONES: We’re not going to be certain that we’re not going to be causing long-term water quality impacts with where these waters are going this year.

KLEIN: Both Pulupa and Jones say, if your home or well gets flooded, ANY contamination could be a problem. For KVPR News, I'm Kerry Klein.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.