*UPDATE* New Science Confirms that Oilfield Produced Water is Safe for Irrigation, Refuting Activist Claims (Again)
Kern County’s Cawelo Water District (Cawelo) has released results from yet another third-party toxicological study concluding that low level organic elements found in oil field-produced water are not being absorbed into crops irrigated as part its innovative and decades-old water recycling program.
The current study, which focused on root crops like carrots and potatoes, is part of a series of studies (see previous EID reports on those results below) that verify an initial study that showed Cawelo’s recycled produced water is safe for use in irrigation by California farmers who have relied on this water for decades, and never more than during the ongoing drought.
From the press release:
“Certain stakeholders have raised questions regarding the safety of using recycled produced water to irrigate crops. With a mandate to protect public health and ensure factual information is disseminated, Cawelo voluntarily initiated a program to extensively and systematically study recycled produced water quality as well as commodities grown with this water supply. Results of all tests are provided to the Regional Board and its recently established Food Safety Panel and made available to the public.”
Following is a summary of Cawelo’s voluntary testing:
- Initial Water Quality Analysis (April 2016): The third-party toxicologist conducted an initial water quality study of Cawelo’s recycled produced water supply, testing for approximately 70 organic compounds identified by the Regional Board. Initial results showed that all detected compounds were within safe drinking water quality standards – an even higher standard than what is required of irrigation water. Also, an initial crop test showed that almonds, grapes and pistachios irrigated with Cawelo’s blended water supply had similar chemical composition levels as crops irrigated with other water supplies.
- Citrus Crop Analysis (October 2016): For the citrus test, the expert toxicologist analyzed mandarins, oranges and lemons, using testing protocols established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The study compared crops irrigated with Cawelo’s blended water supply against crops irrigated with water from other sources. After careful analysis, the toxicologist concluded that key low-level organic elements are not being absorbed nor accumulated in edible fruit.
- Root Crop Analysis (November 2016): For the most-recent root crop testing, the expert toxicologist analyzed carrots and potatoes, using testing protocols established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The study compared crops irrigated with Cawelo’s blended water supply against crops irrigated with water from other sources. After careful analysis, the toxicologist concluded that key low-level organic elements are not being absorbed nor accumulated in edible root crops.
- Expanded Water Quality Testing: Cawelo is now required to test for more than 160 constituents and report results quarterly to the Regional Board. The Water District is systematically moving through the review process with the Regional Board on the first wave of expanded testing data, but notes that the vast majority of the 160 constituents have been non-detectable and below drinking water quality standards – an even higher standard than what is required of irrigation water. Cawelo also conducts monthly testing and reporting for approximately 70 constituents.
According to the State Water Resources Control Board, no studies to date have shown that irrigating food crops with recycled produced water poses any threat to public health.”
As has been pointed out before, the Cawelo recycling program has nothing to do with hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and water produced from this process is never used for irrigation.
-Original post October 21, 2016-
For more than 20 years, Kern County’s Cawelo Water District (Cawelo) has helped farmers offset water shortages by recycling some water brought from the ground (“produced”) during the oil and gas development process in non-hydraulically fractured wells. The produced water is filtered and treated by Cawelo. The water district then blends it with water from other sources and conducts quality testing before providing it to farmers. This program has never been more necessary than now, in the midst of California’s record-breaking drought.
New study confirms previous analyses: Treated water is safe for crops
This week, Cawelo released more good news about its ongoing water testing program to ensure the safety of recycled water. Results from a citrus crop study by a third-party environmental toxicologist found that
“…organic elements found in produced water are not being absorbed into fruit. This verified a previous water quality study that showed Cawelo’s produced water supply to be safe for agriculture irrigation. [emphasis added]
As Lois Henry of the Bakersfield Californian reported:
“Cawelo voluntarily hired toxicology firm Enviro-Tox to test produce harvested last fall, mostly nuts and grapes at that time of year. Those findings, released last April, showed no difference between nuts and grapes irrigated with water that included the recycled oilfield water and nuts and grapes irrigated by other sources.
This new round of tests involved mandarins, oranges and lemons from 18 different locations, again some irrigated with the oilfield water, some from other sources.
Enviro-Tox looked for nine different chemicals that had been found in Cawelo’s blended irrigation water — at levels lower than drinking waterstandards…
Toxicologists again found no difference between the ‘test’ fruit (irrigated with the blended oilfield water) and ‘control’ fruit (irrigated using other sources.)” [emphasis added]
The testing program is intended to protect public health and to ensure that factual information makes its way to the public. Cawelo went on to note why this highly successful, decades-old program is especially important and beneficial now:
As California grapples with ongoing water shortages and drought, the Governor and state leaders have established water policies that mandate Californians reuse and recycle water whenever possible. Recycling produced water is providing farmers a much-needed additional source of water to irrigate crops and helping protect already depleted groundwater basins. [emphasis added]
You would think that a partnership providing 34,000 acre-feet (10 billion gallons) of treated, safe water to California farmers would be cause for celebration. But instead of celebrating this innovative program, extreme “keep it in the ground” anti-fracking activists have used this success story as yet another excuse to scare their followers with anti-scientific misinformation that is blatantly inaccurate.
Activists hate good news
As Energy In Depth has documented, activists curiously trained their sights on this program in a misguided attempt to halt all oil and gas production, ignoring the consequences that their activities could have on the agriculture industry in the nation’s top agricultural state and belying any pretense that their interest is consumer safety.
- Actor (and New York resident) Mark Ruffalo is perhaps best known as an opponent of fracking, but he has taken a keen interest in Cawelo even though water generated from fracking is never used for agricultural purposes. Plainly, his broader goal is to shut down oil and gas operations altogether. Ruffalo even created an activist group, Water Defense, and hired a non-scientist as his “chief scientist” to conduct bogus tests to argue for an end to the Cawelo program. (The Huffington Post covered how Water Defense tried similar opportunistic hijinks in the wake of the Flint water crisis.)
- Of course, fringe environmental group Food and Water Watch was quick to latch-on to Water Defense’s fake science and to call for an end to the highly regarded irrigation program, proving once again that the protection of food and water is far from its highest priority.
- Also predictably, Californians Against Fracking has called for the Cawelo program to be shut down, even though there is no fracking fluid whatsoever in the water sent to the Water District.
- EcoWatch published the claim that “there hasn’t been a comprehensive, independent study to determine if the wastewater is safe for crop irrigation.” We refer you to the headline of this article.
- The Center for Biological Diversity, never shy about scaring people using intentionally misleading information, produced a fact-less “fact sheet” that simply ignores the scientific fact that produced water is treated and, as Cawelo reported following its initial study:
“Initial water quality laboratory analysis reported the levels of acetone in Cawelo’s produced water were 280 times below the maximum concentration considered safe for drinking water; and the level of petroleum hydrocarbons in Cawelo’s produced water were 750 times below the maximum concentration considered safe for drinking water. [Emphasis added]
To date, CBD has not corrected the record for its members. What CBD lacks in integrity it probably makes up for in fundraising effectiveness.
Not only does the Cawelo program allow a productive use for oilfield-produced water (oil production produces water and oil in an approximately 15:1 ratio) but it allows the farmers who produce our food to mitigate the current unprecedented drought. This is the very definition of a win-win-win, for California’s agriculture industry, for consumers and for the environment.
The continuously demonstrated safety of the venerable Cawelo water recycling program is great news for all Californians genuinely concerned with the stewardship of our food supply. It is a shame that activists, who raise money and maintain relevance based on fear and not science, cannot occasionally take a break from industry-bashing to recognize when science shows that they are getting exactly what they claim to want.