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RDNO on trial for 2010 water contamination

Vernon Courthouse
January 28, 2013 - 3:03 PM

The Regional District of the North Okanagan admits a water supply was contaminated under its watch, but denies charges stating it could have done more to prevent it.

After a January, 2010 water contamination prompted a do not drink advisory for thousands of Coldstream residents, the regional district was charged with operating a well in a manner to cause adverse impacts, introducing foreign matter into a well, allowing contamination of drinking water and failing to provide potable water.

The source of the contamination was manure that had seeped into the Antwerp Springs well in Lavington. The manure had been spread across the fields of Pan-O-Ramic Farms at the instruction of owner Ernest Rod Palfrey. Warmer than normal temperatures caused the snow beneath the manure to melt, and along with rainfall, the manure began to flow towards the well, eventually contaminating it.

Palfrey, and the District of Coldstream, charged with failing to provide potable water, both pleaded guilty last summer. They were fined and instructed to make monetary contributions to the Heritage Conservation Fund.

But the regional district has opted to fight the charges. It's trial began today in the Vernon Law Courts. Crown counsel Joel Gold says the trial is expected to last five days. He will call 11 witnesses to the stand. The regional district's defense lawyer, Rob Bruneau, says his client is not denying the contamination occurred, but is saying standard precautionary measures were taken to prevent contamination and delivery of non-potable water. The issue is whether the regional district did its due diligence.

Bruneau said at the time of the contamination, the regional district was in the process of taking risky water systems offline. He said the incident at Antwerp occurred somewhere in the middle of that process.

Conservation officer Mike Richardson attended the scene in January of 2010, and was called today as a Crown witness.

"I observed the field was saturated," Richardson said. "You could see standing water... I noticed a culvert adjacent to the pump house, and noticed all the water from the field was funneling into it."

Richardson said he discovered a pile of sawdust that appeared to be an attempt to block the flow.

"It was just streaming around it," Richardson said.

Water samples later confirmed the water was contaminated with manure.

The trial will continue Tuesday and Wednesday, then will adjourn until next Monday and Tuesday.

—Charlotte Helston

News from © iNFOnews, 2013

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