Fines were levied in Vernon Provincial Court Wednesday over a Coldstream water contamination case.
The District of Coldstream, Pan-O-Ramic Farms, and Pan-O-Ramic’s then-owner, Ernest Rod Palfrey, were each fined for their roles by Judge Mayland McKimm after pleading guilty in the contamination of the Antwerp Springs water source in January 2010.
Coldstream pleaded guilty to one count of failing to provide potable water. McKimm fined the district $16,000, along with a victim fine surcharge of $2,400, and gave the district 30 days to pay up.
Palfrey and Pan-O-Ramic Farms each pleaded guilty to one count of introducing waste into the environment causing pollution.
They were each fined $1,000 and ordered to make $7,000 contributions to the Heritage Conservation Trust Fund, an organization that, according to its website, “invests in projects that maintain and enhance the health and biological diversity of B.C.’s fish, wildlife, and habitats so that people can use, enjoy, and benefit from these resources.”
Palfrey and Pan-O-Ramic Farms have a year to pay their fines.
“The fine may seem modest, but at the end of the day, it’s a reflection that as populations in rural areas close to urban areas begin to expand outwards, and weather becomes more and more unique and unreliable, farmers are going to have to pay closer attention to the consequences of their farm practices,” said McKimm.
McKimm accepted as fact from Crown Joel Gold, Palfrey lawyer Dave Schaefer and Coldstream lawyer Bruce Elwood, that extraordinary events and a series of failures conspired to cause the contamination on Jan. 13, 2010.
Palfrey ran Pan-O-Ramic Farms which was situated up slope from a well operated by the District of Coldstream and owned by the Regional District of North Okanagan.
Palfrey instructed an employee to distribute waste from his dairy farm onto his fields in early January 2010.
Manure was spread onto snow and frozen ground.
On Jan. 13, 2010, a heavy rainfall landed on top of substantial snowpack, causing the snow to melt rapidly, and the water landing on the snowpack flushed the effluent into a culvert which then went to various drains and ultimately onto a field near four separate wells operated by the District of Coldstream to supply potable water to its residents.
McKimm said it was “highly unlikely and barely foreseeable” that the water course the effluent took would arrive at the well site
“But in any event it did, and a series of other failures took place,” said McKimm, including a failure of the runoff systems to run that effluent into coldstream creek as opposed to the aquifer.
Further complicating matters were the well systems operated by Coldstream were, said McKimm, “regrettably overwhelmed by the sheer mass of waste coming from not only from Mr. Palfrey’s farm, but other farms in the area which would have run down into same aquifer.”
McKimm mentioned in passing sentence that the District of Coldstream has “never provided an explanation to this court as to how the failure took place.”
Palfrey declined comment after the proceedings but his lawyer, Schaefer, said his client started working right away to remediate the situation when he found out about the contamination, and worked directly with Ministry of Environment recommendations.
“Mr. Palfrey greatly regrets the contamination of the well and the inconvenience for the affected people in Lavington and Coldstream,” said Schaefer.
About 3,500 people were notified in January 2010 that the Antwerp Springs well source had been contaminated, and that they must not drink the water until bacteriological tests are clean.
In a press release issued by the district, it believes that it acted with due diligence in operating the well, and that extraordinary external circumstances interfered with the district’s ability to provide potable water.
“It is important that the public know that Coldstream council strongly believe that we would have been completely successful in defending ourselves on all four of the charges against the district,” said Mayor Jim Garlick.
“However, proving our case in a lengthy and complex trial could have cost substantially more. Coldstream council therefore did not believe that defending this charge in court would be a prudent use of taxpayers’ dollars.”
Three other charges against the district were stayed.
The wells have since been decommissioned.
Palfrey has since sold Pan-O-Ramic Farms to a cherry orchardist and ceased dairy farm operations.
The Regional District of North Okanagan is facing four charges relating to the contamination, and is slated to begin its trial on the matter in provincial court in January 2013.