New Study: Cawelo Oilfield-Irrigation Program is Safe

The Cawelo Water District’s 20-plus-year old oilfield-to-farm water project in Kern County provides 10 billion gallons of much-needed water to farmers every year. As we have written previously, this produced water, when clean enough, is treated, tested and used to help produce the crops that help feed us all – something even more valuable during out historic drought.

Predictably, environmental activists like actor Mark Ruffalo have spread misinformation about the program in an attempt to scare Californians about potential crop contamination, even though testing has confirmed that the water is safe.

Last week, a new independent study has provided further confirmation that activist fearmongering is unfounded and that Cawelo water is safe for crops – in some cases containing fewer chemicals than even drinking water. The results were presented to a meeting of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board’s Food Safety Panel.

The media is slow to deliver good environmental news, and only Lois Henry of the local Bakersfield Californian gave the study the attention it deserves in the face of misinformed activist opposition. She did not mince words:

“Initial testing of grapes and nuts that have been irrigated for the past 20 or so years with water produced from nearby oilfields shows (drum roll) a…BIG…FAT…NOTHING.


There was no chemical difference between fruits and nuts irrigated by oilfield-produced water in the Cawelo Water District and fruits and nuts grown miles away and irrigated with groundwater or water imported from Northern California or wherever.

There is no evidence that Cawelo fruit is “bioaccumulating” nasty stuff from recycled oilfield-produced water that could then bioaccumulate in humans.

In fact, all testing so far shows the Cawelo water is safe, with lower levels of some chemicals than are allowed in drinking water.” [Emphasis added]

The Water District summary of the study is worth quoting at length:

“The third-party environmental toxicologist found that detected organic compounds were well within safe drinking water standards and Cawelo’s produced water is safe for agricultural use. 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. What’s more, the third-party environmental toxicologist conducted preliminary crop testing and found that crops irrigated with Cawelo’s produced water had the same chemical composition as crops irrigated with other water supplies.

Cawelo is committed to working with the Regional Board and its expert panel in the next steps in this process to do its part and ensure produced water is governed within a strict regulatory framework and is a safe, reliable supply for California agriculture.” [Emphasis added]

In other words, activist attempts to scare Californians about the safety of their food are not based on fact. The fact is that the energy and agriculture industries are the economic backbone of Kern County and they worked in harmony to put our limited resources to the most beneficial use to keep California’s farmer producing, even in the face of severe drought.  This is great news not only for Central Valley farmers, but for all of us who eat the food they produce.

The entire Water Quality Control Board meeting can be found here, with the Cawelo presentation beginning at 122:58.



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