It feels like every time you watch the news, you see stories about water contamination and water supply issues. With the increasing concern over air pollution, climate change, and its negative impact on our water supply, these stories are likely to continue to flood our news feeds. And if you live in California, you have to contend with both water contamination and water shortages.
In cities such as Bakersfield, CA, shrinking groundwater and freshwater supplies—combined with the proliferation of human activities that contaminate the remaining water—are a cause for serious concern.
How Contaminated is Bakersfield’s Water?
As of now, the clean drinking water in Bakersfield, CA is considered safe for consumption. The 2020 California Water Quality Report found that the levels of contaminants in the water system were at safe levels. This report analyzed water from the main sources of Bakersfield drinking water, including:
- Water obtained from the Kern County Water Agency
- Filtered and treated water from the Kern River
- 68 active wells with groundwater supply
The report notes that the recommendations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are for the general population. Some people may be impacted by lower levels of contaminants than deemed safe by the EPA.
What are Contaminants in Drinking Water?
The EPA defines contaminants in water as anything other than water molecules. At times, this can lead to confusion because not all contaminants are harmful to humans, nor are all contaminants regulated by the EPA.
Some of the categories of contaminants that are evaluated in drinking water include:
- Biological – These are living organisms present in water. There are several types of microbes that may be in your water, including viruses, bacteria, parasites, and other microscopic contaminants. Some are harmless, while others can make you very ill if consumed.
- Chemical – The chemical contaminants in tap water can be either organic or inorganic. Human activities often cause chemical contaminants to enter the water system. Chemicals such as nitrogen, bleach, pesticides, salts, metals, and toxins produced by medications and drugs are commonly found in drinking water.
- Physical – Physical contaminants are generally less harmful than the others found in our drinking water because they are organic materials. Soil, sediment, and other organic matter are common physical properties found in tap water.
- Radiological – Chemical elements that have an unbalanced or unstable chemical makeup are radiological contaminants. The unstable properties of these elements can cause them to emit radiation. Uranium, plutonium, and cesium are sometimes found in contaminated drinking water.
Before you vow never to drink the water from your tap again, it’s important to note that cities monitor and regulate the drinking water flowing to the homes of their constituents. Let’s look more closely at what is and isn’t regulated and how the levels considered safe might impact you.
Is It Safe to Drink the Tap Water in Bakersfield?
In general, officials in California say that it’s safe to drink the tap water in Bakersfield, CA. However, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) sets stricter standards for drinking water than the federal government. In their guidance for clean drinking water, the EWG notes several concerns with the federal standards for legal limits of contaminants in drinking water, including:
- Lack of updating – The government standards haven’t been updated in 20 years. A significant amount of research has been done in this time and we now know more about how certain contaminants in our water system can harm people.
- Focus on the general population – The federal standards also only account for the “general population.” This means that vulnerable groups such as infants and children may be at greater risk of developmental problems because of harmful contaminants in the water.
- Potential for corruption – The EWG notes that the federal government and its officials can be swayed by financial contributions or compromises with corporations that contribute to groundwater pollution. Thus, your health may not always be the top priority when determining acceptable levels of contaminants in your drinking water.
Therefore, while the drinking water in Bakersfield is deemed safe to drink, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have some concerns.
Bakersfield Water Contaminant Levels
Studies of Bakersfield water contamination by the EWG have uncovered some potentially problematic findings. These findings can be divided into two categories: contaminants with and without legal limits in drinking water.
Water Contaminants with Legal Limits
The following potentially harmful contaminants were found in the tap water in Bakersfield. While they were all below the legal limit, their presence is still alarming to many:
- Arsenic – The national average level of arsenic in tap water is 0.647 ppb. In Bakersfield, the levels were significantly higher at 2.51 ppb. The legal limit is 10 ppb.
- Haloacetic acids (HAA5) – Bakersfield’s water also has significantly higher levels of HAA5s than the state and national averages. Bakersfield water contains 26.9 ppb. The legal limit is 60 ppb.
- Nitrate – Nitrates have also been linked to increased cancer risk. Nationally, drinking water averages about 0.923 ppb of nitrates. In Bakersfield, this number increases to 2.03 ppb. The national legal limit is 10 ppb.
- Trihalomethanes – These contaminants form when water is treated with chlorine. In Bakersfield’s water, the level is 36.6 ppb. Nationally, the level is lower at 29.7 ppb. The legal limit for Trihalomethanes is 80 ppb.
- Uranium – While Bakersfield’s water has lower Uranium levels than the rest of the state (1.55 pCi/L vs. 2.54 pCi/L), this is still concerning. The legal limit is 20 pCi/L, but the state of California has acknowledged that they need to reduce levels of Uranium in drinking water for the health and safety of all.
While all of these contaminants are below legal limits, those limits haven’t been updated in quite some time. It’s possible they could be set to a lower level upon further review.
Water Contaminants without Legal Limits
There are other contaminants in Bakersfield’s drinking water that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) finds concerning. While these don’t have set legal limits, they are found in an analysis of the tap water in Bakersfield in levels higher than recommended by the EWG:
- Dibromoacetic acid
- Dichloroacetic acid
- Haloacetic acids
- Trichloroacetic acid
These contaminants are potential contributors to the development of cancer with regular ingestion and exposure.
How to Ensure Safe Drinking Water in Your Home
If you’re feeling a little panicky about your drinking water, take a deep breath. There are ways you can upgrade the quality of your tap water to keep you and your family safe, including installing a water cleaning and filtration system, such as:
- Carbon filters – These inexpensive filters can help reduce the number of contaminants in your water by binding to many organic compounds, such as asbestos, lead, and mercury. They don’t filter out inorganic matters like fluoride, nitrates, and arsenic.
- Water softeners – Water softeners primarily remove magnesium and calcium that build up in water pipes. They may also help remove radium from your water. However, they don’t remove the other microcontaminants found in Bakersfield’s water.
- Salt-free water systems – Instead of using sodium like a traditional water softener, salt-free water systems remove calcium and magnesium without salt. It doesn’t soften your water in the process.
- Reverse osmosis systems – These systems include a carbon filter to help capture organic compounds and have a membrane that catches anything larger than water molecules. This second membrane is what sets reverse osmosis systems apart from carbon filters as it allows the system to eliminate harmful inorganic materials from your tap water.
The best water system for your family depends on the quality of the water where you live.
Bottled Water vs. Tap Water
It might be tempting to stuff your refrigerator with bottled water and avoid tap water altogether. However, this solution is damaging to the environment and not necessarily better for you. A study conducted by the State University of New York at Fredonia found that 93 percent of the bottled water samples they analyzed were contaminated by microplastics.
Furthermore, most of the bottled water purchased in the United States comes from the same groundwater and freshwater bodies as the water that flows through your taps—it’s just put through a different filtration system.
Therefore, unless the tap water is deemed completely unsafe for consumption, your best choice is to invest in a high-quality water solution system for your home.
Rayne Water: A Safe and Environmentally Friendly Water Solution System
The water in Bakersfield, CA contains many of the same contaminants found in other water systems across the country. The government sets acceptable levels of these contaminants that are allowed to be present in drinking water. Although Bakersfield’s water doesn’t exceed the legal levels of any measured contaminants, the presence of these particles is still a potential cause for concern.
Instead of reaching for bottled water that may have contaminants of its own, try investing in a water solution system. At Rayne Water, we’ve been working with homes in California since the 1920s. We have the latest in water filtration systems, water softeners, and more, all designed to keep you and your family safe.
- CalWater. Bakersfield 2020 Water Quality Report. https://www.calwater.com/ccrs/bk-bk-2020
- EPA. Types of Drinking Water Contaminants. https://www.epa.gov/ccl/types-drinking-water-contaminants
- Environmental Working Group. Developing Health-Protective Standards for Drinking Water. https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/ewg-standards.php
- EWG. California Water Service (CWS) Bakersfield. https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/system.php?pws=CA1510003
- EWG. Water Filter Guide. https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/water-filter-guide.php
- Frontiers in Chemistry. Synthetic Polymer Contamination in Bottled Water. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fchem.2018.00407/full