‘Off the charts’: Residents concerned over E. coli count in Middle Shuswap River

File photo of the Middle Shuswap River. Global News

For many North Okanagan residents, it’s a problem that should have been addressed a long time ago.

It’s also one they argue needs to be addressed now: exceptionally high E. coli levels in the Middle Shuswap River.

A group called Bee SAFE has launched a petition calling on government to take immediate action.

“We’ve got tests that show that E. coli is off the charts,” said Bee Safe founder Huguette Allen. “They couldn’t even calculate it. It was over 2,420.”

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The World Health Organization says most E. coli strains are harmless, but some can cause serious food poisoning.

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The federal government has more information available about E. coli, including having a mandated zero count of E. coli per 100 ml in drinking water.

For bodies of water, the numbers range, with Interior Health saying “the sample is considered unsatisfactory if the previous 5 samples contain an average greater than 200 E. coli/100 mL or if a single sample contains over 400 E. coli/100 mL.”

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Dozens of concerned residents turned up to a town hall meeting in Cherryville on Thursday night to voice a variety of concerns amid the alarming figures.

“It’s really disappointing to go from saying ‘this is one of the cleanest rivers’ to ‘I should be careful when I’m swimming,’” said Cherryville resident Claude Labine.

Roxanne Lindley of Westbank First Nation also chimed in, saying, “Our people have just put thousands of fish into the Shuswap River with the hopes of bringing them back for future generations. And in order for these fish to survive, they need clean water.”

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And this from Tess Arcand, another Cherryville resident: “Where are we going to get clean water once it’s fully contaminated? There’s a point where we got to just stop what’s happening and change it.”

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Unlike the water in the Middle Shuswap River of late, Bee Safe says what’s happening is crystal clear.

“Right now, we’ve got pollution coming in. And we know that the pollution, the bulk of it, is coming from intensive livestock operations,” Allen alleged.

She says agricultural byproducts like manure are supposed to be regulated by the province, but says local concerns have fallen on deaf ears.

“It’s worth protecting. But the problem is that government will not do it. We have contacted every authority you can imagine, and they are not protecting it,” said Allen.

The Ministry of Environment declined an interview request but provided an email statement.

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“We appreciate the concerns raised by Cherryville community members,” it said.

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“Environmental protection officers will be in the community to conduct inspections and ensure agricultural activities are adhering to the code of practice for agricultural environmental management under the Environmental Management Act.”

The ministry added that all inspection records will be publicly available and that cattle ranchers are required to ensure that contaminated runoff, solids and air contaminants do not enter a watercourse, cross a property boundary, or go below the water table.

The petition launched by Bee SAFE is available online.

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