“Clear probable source” of north Okanagan drinking water pollutants

Liquid Manure Spreader.
Liquid Manure Spreader. Photo: Al Price

VERNON – A group of professional hydrogeologists says it’s all but certain pollutants getting into a north Okanagan aquifer are coming from a large dairy farm.

In an open letter to four provincial government ministries the trio from Western Water Associates, a Vernon consulting company, say: “Based on our review, it is our professional opinion that effluent spreading on the field of concern by Jansen and Sons Farms Ltd. is extremely likely, if not certainly, the source of most of the nitrate contamination in Steele Springs (community water source).”

About 350 Spallumcheen area residents have been advised water from the Hullcar aquifer may not be safe to drink for infants, pregnant women, seniors and those with compromised immune systems because of nitrate levels that exceed Canadian drinking water standards.

With government permission, the dairy farm has spread hundreds of thousands of litres of liquid manure on fields above the aquifer.

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“It is clear contamination of a drinking water source has occurred and is occuring,” write Ryan Rhodes, Douglas Geller and Bryer Manwell. “The prudent action to be taken is to impose a moratorium on further liquid effluent spreading on the field of concern until the situation is fully understood and it can be scientifically demonstrated that resuming liquid effluent spreading will not impact water quality at Steele Springs.

The government has said the source of the nitrate pollution is uncertain and the consultants agree some “background concentrations” likely originate from domestic septic disposal systems and other low-intensity agricultural practices.

Earlier this month, the government announced plans for a year long study into the issue.

The three hydrogeolgists note the Drinking Water Protection Act gives Interior Health the power 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. As professionals and representatives of the Steele Spring Waterworks District, we strongly urge government to take action now and impose the requested moratorium.”

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