“From both sides of the valley little streams slipped out of the hill canyons and fell into the bed of the Salinas River. In the winter of wet years the streams ran full-freshet, and they swelled the river until sometimes it raged and boiled, bank full, and then it was a destroyer. The river tore edges of the farm lands and washed whole acres down…”

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

No surprise that the Monterey County Grand Jury found that water is an efficient carrier of E. coli.

“During years of heavy winter rainfall many sloughs, creeks, streams, and other tributaries overflow their banks onto the floodplain depositing contaminated water or material on agricultural land,” the Grand Jury observed.

The county Health Department says feces should be kept off any agricultural floodplain and if not only produce that must be cooked should be grown there.

The Grand Jury says the county Supervisors should fund the necessary floodplain, water, and irrigation water testing to ensure that fresh produce can be grown safely in the Salinas Valley.

Last May, before the big spinach outbreak of ’06, the Grand Jury visited a farm on Santa Rita Creek. “Sheep, horses, pigs, chickens, goats, and cattle were observed on separate parcels of land throughout the survey site,” the Grand Jury reported. “In one instance fecal material was overflowing toward the creek on a parcel containing a pig.”

The Grand Jury’s recommendations, which require responses from both the Monterey County Board of Supervisors and the District Attorney, should remind us all that only effective actions at the local level will ensure safe fresh produce nationally.

Water testing with consequences program laid out by the Grand Jury strikes me as the type of changes that are desperately needed in the Salinas Valley. Funding that program instead of having some advertising agency design some smiley face seal is what is needed and now.