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Environmental Blog

  • 02
  • November
  • 2016


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California Study Finds Water Used in Fracking is Safe for Agricultural Uses

Officials in the Cawelo Water District (“Cawelo”), a public water agency in Bakersfield, California, recently commissioned an analysis of water quality and food crop data in order to assess the safety of utilizing blended produced water for agricultural irrigation purposes. Cawelo receives approximately 10.4 billion gallons of produced water a year from regional oil producers that thoroughly monitor and treat the produced water before sending it to Cawelo for agricultural use. The produced water is then blended with water from other groundwater and surface water sources and tested before being approved for agricultural use.

The initial report, released in April 2016, found that Cawelo’s blended produced water supply met all applicable regulatory standards for agricultural use. In the most recent study, testing of several different crops showed no cause for concern when comparing crops irrigated with blended produced water against the same crops irrigated with other water sources. Cawelo has engaged a Toxicology Consulting Service to conduct ongoing analysis of different crops as they come into season.

One of the major barriers to more widespread reuse of produced water is the public perception that chemicals present in produced water make the quality of the water unsuitable for agricultural uses. However, Cawelo’s studies indicate that produced water can be treated and blended in such a way that all applicable regulatory standards for agricultural use are satisfied. The newest study further shows that organic chemical constituents found in blended produced water were not being absorbed in edible fruit and did not accumulate in the fruit.

Recycled produced water has been used to irrigate crops in the areas around Bakersfield for more than two decades. Cawelo is required to sample, test, and report water quality data to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (“Regional Board”). The Regional Board recently increased the number of constituents for which produced water must be tested from 70 to 160.

As California continues to suffer through an ongoing drought, the addition of 10 billion gallons of water a year to the available water supply is a welcome relief for California’s agriculture industry. This study, and others like it, may encourage other western states facing similar water shortages to consider expanding existing policies on the beneficial reuse of produced water. 


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Rachel D. Comeskey

Rachel D. Comeskey Associate

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