NDP orders new Hullcar aquifer review

New environment minister to commission independent expert to review case

The new NDP environment ministry has ordered a new review of Spallumcheen’s Hullcar aquifer.

Environment Minister George Heyman – one of three then-opposition MLAs to visit the Hullcar valley in the spring of 2016 at the invitation of the Save Hullcar Aquifer Team – announced the review Wednesday, with the end goal of ensuring, he says, that agricultural practices are consistent with the provision and protection of clean, safe drinking water.

“This is a positive first step,” said Al Price, SHAT spokesperson.

The Hullcar aquifer has been under a water quality advisory due to high nitrate levels since the spring of 2014.

An independent expert is being commissioned to lead the review, which will be due to government by the end of Sept. 7. The review will look at decisions and actions taken to-date with respect to pollution in the Hullcar aquifer. Calvin Sandborn, legal director with the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre, will serve as special advisor to the reviewer.

“We would like to learn who the expert is that is being commissioned, and we hope to work closely with that person,” said Price.

“We are very happy that Calvin (Sandborn) has been included as a special advisor. Calvin and his students have done three projects with us, and have another in the queue, so Calvin is very conversant with our issue.”

For Heyman, who was joined on his trip to the North Okanagan last year by Lana Popham and Scott Fraser – now agriculture and indigenous relations ministers, respectively – providing Hullcar Valley residents with a new path forward is one of his top priorities.

“Residents need to have faith that government is listening and will be taking action to protect water quality and safety in the region while ensuring agricultural interests are protected,” said Heyman.

The review is expected to provide recommendations to help inform best practices for the agricultural sector and improvements to regulations that can be applied provincewide.

“The mayor and council are pleased to learn that the review will take place,” said Spallumcheen Mayor Janice Brown.

“Improper disposal of agricultural waste is an issue not only in our community, but elsewhere in B.C. This review provides an opportunity to find ways for a vibrant agriculture industry and safe drinking water to go hand in hand.”

The B.C. Dairy Association, representing farmers across the province, says it’s committed to ensuring economic and environmental sustainability.

“We will continue to work with provincial and local government to foster sustainable agriculture in the Hullcar region,” said Dave Taylor, B.C. Dairy Association chairperson.

Findings from the review will be posted publicly on the ministry’s website.