New program to help Kern residents with nitrate-tainted water

June 17, 2024
Jesse Vad, SJV Water
by Jesse Vad, SJV Water
Numerous drinking water wells in the San Joaquin Valley are contaminated with nitrates, which are harmful to babies and pregnant women. A new state program will test wells for free and provide replacement water, if needed. SJV Water photo illustration
Jesse Vad, SJV Water
Jesse Vad, SJV Water


Residents in established management zones (Kern’s is NOT fully operational) can apply for well testing online or call/email for help through management zone websites.

Established management zones are operational in the Turlock, Modesto, Chowchilla, Kaweah, Tule and Kings subbasins.

Residents of Turlock/Modesto subbasins, which generally includes western Stanislaus County, can apply HERE, call (209) 750-3867 or email:
On Facebook

Residents of Chowchilla subbasin, which generally includes western Madera County, can apply HERE, call (559) 373-7399 or email: chowchilladrinkingwater@
On Facebook

Residents of Kings subbasin, which generally includes central Fresno and eastern Kings Counties, can apply HERE, call (559) 549-6747 or email:
On Facebook

Residents of Kaweah subbasin, which generally includes northwestern Tulare County, can apply HERE, call (559) 325-4463 or email:
On Facebook 

Residents of Tule subbasin, which generally includes southwestern Tulare County, can apply HERE, call (559) 429-6970 or email:
On Facebook 

The Kern Water Collaborative is not up providing free testing yet but can learn more HERE, call (661) 888-4108 or email:
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A new water quality initiative in Kern County is gearing up to go live in the next few months to help residents whose water is contaminated with nitrates.

The state’s nitrate control program launched in 2021. It offers free well testing and water deliveries for residents whose wells test over the limit for nitrates. The program is mandated by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board and funded by nitrate polluters throughout the valley.

Nitrates, which have infiltrated drinking supplies from fertilizers, septic tanks, dairies and other sources, can be harmful to pregnant women and infants. 

Kern is the latest valley region to establish large-scale nitrate remediation under the state program. It is still forming and will be fully operational next year.

The first phase of the state program established five “priority 1” nitrate management zones covering the most polluted regions. Each zone is based on groundwater subbasins. Priority 1 zones cover the Turlock/Modesto subbasin, Chowchilla subbasin, Kings subbasin, Kaweah subbasin and Tule subbasin.

The “priority 2” areas, which are still being established, include two areas in Kern County (one covering the Poso Creek area, the other in the southwestern part of the county) and the Tulare Lake, Delta-Mendota, Eastern San Joaquin, Madera, Merced and Yolo water subbasins.

Water managers in Kern County are actually ahead of the pack. 

Managers have been organizing, collecting funds and hiring consultants for a few years to bring the region into nitrate compliance by the deadline of December 2024, said Nicole Bell, executive director of the Kern Water Collaborative, a new organization.  

The water collaborative will, if all goes to plan, become a management zone once approved by the regional water board. After it’s approved, it can begin free water testing and water distribution to homes with tainted water.

Outreach has been an issue for priority 1 management zones, which haven’t had as much response from residents as anticipated. 

So, Kern Water Collaborative staff are preparing to start outreach early to figure out what works best for residents who might need replacement water, said Bell. 

The collaborative will also be hosting webinars and in-person workshops, she added. Staff is targeting community gathering spots, such as churches, grocery stores, schools and more, to disseminate information, said Bell. The collaborative will also work with environmental justice groups and specific community members, she said. 

“Behind the scenes, we’re developing our programs, developing our processes and procedures, so that we can get those delivered to the communities that wish to participate,” said Bell. 

The collaborative will also be working with groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs.) Some GSA staff sit on the board of the collaborative. There are many water managers wearing “three and four hats,” said Bell. There is a lot of overlap with GSAs and a wealth of knowledge at the table, she added. 

The recently revamped Kern subbasin groundwater plan and subchapters includes an agreement between the GSAs and the collaborative that will streamline compliance with numerous state regulations, according to water managers. 

“The state has over the last several decades instituted an unprecedented number of overlapping environmental regulations,” with regard to groundwater, according to an email from Dan Bartel, General Manager of the Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District. “These have become increasingly redundant and very costly to manage. The Collaborative helps bring together several such groups and programs for more efficient resource management. The GSAs are a piece of the puzzle being added to help have a coordinated effort.”

But first comes the management zone approval process.

“The first steps really are for these coalitions of dischargers to get together and form management zones,” said Patrick Pulupa, executive officer for the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. 

Those plans will go over governance of each management zone, what areas will be covered and the nitrate management strategy, said Pulupa. 

The plans will be finalized and turned into the regional board by early 2025. Shortly after that, drinking water testing and deliveries will begin, Pulupa said. 

Engaging with the public has been an issue for management zones thus far. That’s why managers and coalitions for the upcoming areas are starting early, said Pulupa. 

“The lessons of priority 1 were that it takes a long time to understand the key people within different nongovernmental organizations or social leaders or community activists,” said Pulupa. “You’ve got to get in front of them and start talking about this program way in advance.”

The Kern Water Collaborative will hold a virtual workshop to meet interested persons and answer questions on June 26. Parties may sign up on the collaborative’s website or reach the collaborative at (661) 888-4108, email,  or follow them on Facebook.

Jesse Vad, SJV Water

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.


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