Don't drink the water! That's the warning for San Juan Bautista residents early this week. Notices went out warning of high levels of nitrates in the water.
Around San Juan Bautista, you'll find most people drinking out of bottled water these days. No tap water for residents or restaurants; ven though a glass of water may look clean, it's high in nitrates.
The side effects of consuming too much water with high nitrates can include shortness of breath, and even turning the skin a bluish color. Infants and pregnant women are the most susceptible.
Donna Esther Mexican restaurant is busy as ever and food preparation are in the works for a busy weekend ahead.
“Mother’s Day is coming on Sunday and we do have a lot to get ready for,” said general manager of Donna Esther, Tami Castaneda.
However, a recent water alert sent this family-owned restaurant into a panic.
“Oh my God they are going to close us down,” Castaneda says she thought when she saw the alert.
The small city of less than 2,000 residents has three wells. Two of them were offline because of high nitrate levels, but the drought forced their hand in bringing one of them back online a few days ago.
“Well No. 1 was adequate to meet the demand when it was cool, but when the warm weather comes we had a deficit so we brought well 2 online,” said city manager Roger Grimsley.
Grimsley says because the water has unhealthy levels of nitrites, people here should drink bottled water for now to be safe.
“Nitrates come into your water system a variety of ways predominantly from fertilizer based on agriculture. This is a largely based agricultural area. The other contributor is septic tanks,” said Grimsley.
For now, Castaneda says her restaurant will have to rely on bottled water.
“It’s going to get costly. It's all about going out and spending a little extra money to stay afloat,” said Castaneda.
And Castaneda’s biggest question is if nitrates make the water unsafe for infants and children, “is it really good enough for the rest of us?”.
The city is working with the State Department of Public Health to send out warnings to the residents. In the meantime, San Juan Bautista is looking into making bottled water available to residents.