Residents, schools, and businesses in Lemon Cove were notified by the Lemon Cove Sanitary District on March 3 that unsafe levels of nitrates were detected in area wells. Test wells were sampled in December 2014 as per California guidelines for state regulated water systems.
Nitrate levels of 50.1 milligrams per liter were detected in Lemon Cove Water Company wells. The standard or maximum contaminant level (MCL) that is allowable under state law is 45 mg/L.
Nitrates are common in agricultural areas or where there is a concentration of septic systems and can cause life-threatening illness. Infants younger than six months who drink the water risk illness and death due to the failure of the bloodstream to carry enough oxygen to critical organs. Pregnant women should also refrain from drinking or cooking with tap water.
Exposure symptoms include shortness of breath and a blueness of skin tone. If symptoms are detected, medical help should be sought immediately.
Boiling, freezing, or filtering only concentrates the nitrates in even more dangerous quantities. Bottled water should be used if any unsafe levels are suspected or in locales with a history of contaminated water.
Most Lemon Cove residents routinely use bottled water for drinking because the local well water contains contaminants typical of many San Joaquin Valley agricultural communities.
The Lemon Cove community will be re-noticed when nitrates again fall below unsafe levels. The Lemon Cove Sanitary District and the County of Tulare, a partner in the Lemon Cove Water Company, have applied for state and federal funding to correct the problem.
For information on the current water-use restrictions, call Tulare County Environmental Health at (559) 624-7400.