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Environmental issues in Fresno, California facts for kids

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Fresno is the 34th-most populous city in the United States, at close to half a million people. It covers about 112 square miles (290 km2) in the center of the San Joaquin Valley, in the southern portion of California. Founded in 1872, the city has since become the economic hub of the San Joaquin Valley, with much of the surrounding areas tied to large-scale agricultural production. Contamination of ground water by pesticides and other chemical run-offs is a major issue. The monitoring and regulation of contaminants is lax. In 2001, Fresno had 2600 counts of radon in a sample compared to the national standard of 300 and U.S. average of 700. The problems of air quality are exacerbated by the surrounding mountains which trap emissions from the entire Central Valley. 1 in 6 Children in the San Joaquin Valley have asthma, the highest level in the State.

Water Drought

The drought in California, and especially Fresno, has left millions of people fearing for their jobs while simultaneously raising food prices around the country. Fresno County alone is responsible for almost $7 billion worth of agriculture annually, but these numbers are being threatened by the drought. Since water is essential to crop production, the loss of water has taken a huge hit on farmers in the valley. According to California Department of Water Resources, 9 of the 12 biggest reservoirs in California are below the historical average, even after the “El Nino” year in the winter of 2015. In the last five years, Fresno has received significantly less rainfall than the historical average of 14.77 inches per year, with the average since 2011 being 7.76 inches per year. This means that Fresno has only been getting about half of the rain that it normally does, creating problems that may take several years of heavy rain to recover.


The obvious cause of the drought is that there is a lack of rainfall. With significantly less rainfall than usual, small rivers have been drying up, and less water is being given to farmers to grow their crops. Over the last eleven years, only two years have reached the 14.77 inch per year average, so the current drought has been an ongoing issue that has only recently intensified. In the San Joaquin Valley, there are several seasonal rivers and streams controlled by the amount of water let out by California’s vast dam system, but some of these seasonal waterways have been dry for several years now. This is because of a huge lack of water in the reservoirs, so water cannot be let out if it is not there. One issue that many Californians have with this process of letting water out of the reservoirs is that billions of gallons of water are let out during the spring, leaving reservoirs depleted in the hotter and drier months of the year. While some would argue that this is wasteful, it is actually necessary to leave room for snow runoff to fill the lakes because of a scenario where the reservoir could potentially flood after heavy rainfall or unseasonably warm days melting off more snow than expected. Major storms could raise the water level in reservoirs by more than ten percent, so some lakes will only allow the lake to be as high as 60 percent during winter months. Also, there are more reservoirs downstream of Fresno that need to be filled in order to provide water for the southern parts of California that rarely receive rain either. For these reasons, it becomes essential to continue to let water out of the reservoirs, even during this severe drought.


The people that have arguably been impacted the most by this drought are the farmers who depend on water to raise their crops. Rain water plays an important role in the health of crops, but water that is pumped into the farms through irrigation techniques is even more important. Many streams are dried up, so more and more farmers and people are turning to groundwater deep in the Earth to find water. However, this is quickly depleting the aquifers that supply water for the city of Fresno. In the last 80 years since the city of Fresno has used groundwater as a water source, the water level has dropped from 30 feet below the surface to 128 feet in 2009. This has resulted in the city of Fresno turning to alternate ways to reliably get clean water, such as aggressively recharging the ground water and occasionally purifying surface water for use by residents. This has helped to an extent and groundwater levels have started to drop at slower rates, but having rain and runoff to recharge them at a faster rate would also be very beneficial.

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