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North Okanagan residents can't stomach liquid manure in their water

Manure is spread on the 210 acre field owned by HS Jansen and Sons Farm Ltd. in summer 2015.
Image Credit: Al Price


SPALLUMCHEEN - A formal request has been sent to Interior Health asking it to order an immediate moratorium on a North Okanagan dairy farm’s practice of spreading liquid manure above a drinking water aquifer.

The request, filed by the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria on behalf of concerned local residents, comes after almost two years of a continuous water quality advisory warning pregnant women, babies under six months old, seniors and those with weakened immune systems should not drink the water. The advisory was issued after nitrate levels in the Hullcar aquifer rose beyond acceptable Canadian drinking water safety standards.

Al Price, local resident and member of the group Save Hullcar Aquifer Team, says citizens have been fighting far too long to get clean, safe drinking water to flow from their taps.

“When the drinking water of 300 people is sacrificed to the needs of a thousand cows, something is really wrong,” Price says.

The group believes the contamination is coming from liquid manure being spread on a 210-acre field owned by HS Jansen and Sons Farm Ltd., which operates a roughly 1,000-head dairy farm. 

High nitrate levels in drinking water are associated with a number of serious medical issues including ‘blue baby’ syndrome in infants, cancer, and thyroid gland dysfunctions. Because of the health hazard, the group feels it is the Ministry of Health’s responsibility to intervene.

The application filed by Victoria law student Rachel Gutman and legal director Calvin Sandborn states the Interior Health Authority has the power to order a full stop to the discharge of effluent under the Drinking Water Protection Act.

“(The Act) gives health officers the power to intervene if there’s reasonable cause for a health hazard. We argue there’s no doubt this is a health hazard,” Sandborn says.

The 19-page request submitted to Interior Health states the Ministry of Environment recognized the link between the field effluent and the contaminated water supply almost two years ago when it issued a compliance order limiting the amount of effluent spread on the field. At that time, nitrate levels had reached 8.56 parts per million, and the farm was ordered to stop adding nutrients to the field unless it had authorization from the Ministry.

In March 2014, nitrate levels in the aquifer hit 10.1 ppm, just over the Canadian drinking water limit of 10 ppm. Interior Health responded with a water quality advisory that remains in effect today.

Since issuing the compliance order, Sandborn says the Ministry has ‘amazingly’ authorized four more applications of nitrogen to the field for 231 kg/hectare/year.

“It raises the question, why were these additional applications ever allowed?” Sandborn says.

According to Price, some residents have invested in expensive nitrate filters for their water, but many more can’t afford the treatment systems and are forced to buy bottled water or simply take the risk of drinking it.

“It’s certainly created a lot of stress and a lot of anger,” Price says.

In response to our request for an interview, the Ministry of Environment sent a statement saying the dairy farm has complied with the March 2014 order, which included hiring a qualified professional to conduct regular soil and water sampling and provide annual sampling reports to the ministry. It says sampling through most of 2015 showed nitrates were within Health Canada guidelines, although the most recent sampling in December 2015 showed a spike up to 13.5 mg/L. 

"The ministry’s compliance team continues to monitor the situation and plans to conduct inspections in the area in the near future," the ministry says. 

The ministry says it is working with Interior Health, the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations 'to coordinate a comprehensive approach to improve water quality for the entire valley.'

Interior Health refused to comment until it fully considers the application. Attempts to contact HS Jansen and Sons Farm Ltd. have been unsuccessful.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

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