By Steve Large

SALIDA (CBS13) – Don’t drink the water.

People in some Stanislaus and Merced counties are being warned if their water comes from groundwater wells, it could be contaminated with harmful amounts of nitrate.

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Now those homes could be receiving free bottled water as a solution.

Some have already been buying bottles for years, to avoid getting sick.

“I don’t want to be sick,” Salida homeowner Jose Olagues said. “So I prefer just buying water to drink.”

At his Salida home with a water fountain flowing in his front yard, Jose Olagues can’t drink from the faucet in his own home.

“This is what I do, every day,” Olagues said.

Bottled water keeps him from becoming sick.

“Maybe when I drink, something’s inside my stomach — for my family too — not too good,” Olagues said.

It’s the well in his backyard that has become a problem. Olagues is one of an estimated 50,000 homeowners who live within an area in Stanislaus and Merced Counties where high nitrate levels could now qualify them for free bottled water delivery.

“Nitrate is something that is almost exclusively man-made from crops from dairies, from septic systems,” Clean Water Action California Executive Director Jennifer Clary said.

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Clary says the nitrates have contaminated the groundwater in the region after decades of farming.

Under the guidance of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, a group of farms and businesses formed an organization in 2020 to address the problem. A free water bottle delivery service is now one of the solutions.

The group’s executive director Parry Klassen put out a statement reading:

“It’s remarkable to see how this coalition of farmers, dairies, other businesses, and cities came together so quickly for this program of providing access to clean drinking water.”

For Jose Olagues, the free bottled water will save his wallet.

“Oh sure, of course, it’s a lot of help, Olagues said. “I can save a lot of money.”

Until groundwater cleanup is complete — to save his health.

“You never know,” Olagues said. “I hope.”

The free water bottle delivery program goes into effect on May 7. The program is expected to cost farmers $1 million a year.

Nitrates can cause problems with blood pressure and heart rate and can lead to headaches and vomiting.

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You can sign up for well testing and free bottled water by visiting the Valley Water Collaborative website, here: