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Hydrogeologists point to liquid manure as probable source of North Okanagan drinking water contamination

Manure is spread on the 210 acre field owned by HS Jansen and Sons Farm Ltd. in summer 2015.
Image Credit: Al Price
April 26, 2016 - 4:30 PM

SPALLUMCHEEN - More voices are joining the call for a moratorium on a North Okanagan farm’s practice of spreading liquid manure over a water aquifer supplying hundreds of people.

Three professional hydrogeologists, Ryan Rhodes, Douglas Geller and Bryer Manwell, wrote an open letter to the Ministries of Environment, Health, Agriculture and Lands and Natural Resource Operations, as well as Interior Health, stating their dismay over the government’s response to ongoing drinking water concerns in Spallumcheen.

The group has reviewed all available data on the Hullcar aquifer, and collected samples from select wells in the valley. Based on the research, they say manure being spread by a dairy farm is ‘extremely likely, if not certainly’ the source of nitrate contamination in the Steele Springs Water District.

The farm itself was identified as a 'field of concern' in a Ministry of Environment compliance order. The compliance order put some restrictions on the farm’s practice of spreading effluent on the filed, but permitted subsequent applications of manure. A drinking water advisory has been in place for the past two years due to elevated nitrate levels. Provincial agencies say the source of the nitrates remains unknown.

“We do not believe public health and protection of the environment is being held paramount in government’s handling of this issue. Moving forward, a precautionary approach is warranted for this situation,” Rhodes, Geller and Manwell say in their letter.

They insist the prudent action would be to impose a moratorium on any further liquid effluent until the situation is fully understood and it can be scientifically proven that resuming the practice will not impact water quality. Residents have been asking for such a moratorium for months with the help of the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria.

“Powers exist under the Drinking Water Protection Act that allow Interior Health drinking water officers to take action to prevent contamination of drinking water sources. These powers do not require conclusive proof of the source of the contamination, only identification of a likely or probable source,” states the open letter. “There is a clear probable source in this instance, and as professionals and as representatives of the Steele Springs Waterworks District, we strongly urge government to take action now and impose the requested moratorium.”

READ MORE: Click here for previous stories about water quality issues in the Hullcar aquifer.


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