Three North Okanagan hydrogeologists have thrown their support behind Spallumcheen’s Steele Springs Water District.
The trio from Vernon-based Western Water Associates Ltd. have written a letter to the province stating they, like the water district, believe the source of contamination of the Hullcar aquifer water source, which has been high in nitrate levels for two years, is a large dairy farm operation above the aquifer.
Representatives from the ministries of environment, agriculture, health and forests attended a public meeting on the topic in April at Hullcar Hall and told the crowd they hadn’t pinpointed the contamination source.
The co-signers of the letter are all hydrogeologists and professional engineers or geoscientists licensed to practice with the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C.
“We have familiarized ourselves with the information currently available including review of previous reports prepared for the Hullcar aquifer systems, environmental monitoring data collected by the Ministry of Environment and water quality data collected by the Steele Springs Waterworks District and submitted routinely to Interior Health,” wrote the hydrogeologists.
“We have also collected recent water level data and water quality samples from selected wells. Based on our review, it is our professional opinion that effluent spreading on the field of concern by the dairy farm in question is extremely likely, if not certainly, the source of most of the nitrate contamination in Steele Springs.”
The trio agree that some ambient background concentration of nitrate-nitrogen “likely results from septic disposal to ground, lower intensity agricultural practices and other sources of nitrogen in the area.”
Based on the information currently available, they say, the background concentration is likely around 2 mg/L or less.
“Recent nitrate concentrations in Steele Springs have been measured in excess of 13 mg/L,” states the letter. “There is little doubt in our minds that the reason for elevated nitrate concentrations in Steele Springs is due to liquid effluent spreading on the so-called “field of concern,” which is currently under a ministry of environment compliance order. This compliance order unfortunately allowed continued application of effluent and now, two years later, the drinking water is still contaminated.”
The trio is also dismayed at both the response by the ministries of health, environment and agriculture to date, and with their proposed plans to address the nitrate contamination in the Steele Springs community water source.
“These plans call for a year-long study; however, this study, in and of itself will do nothing to alleviate the contamination of a drinking water source in the near-term,” said the hydrogeologists.
Moving forward, they said, a precautionary approach is warranted for this situation.
“It is clear contamination of a drinking water source has occurred and is occurring. This contamination poses a clear risk to public health based on guidelines put in place by Health Canada and routinely enforced by Interior Health. 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.”
Western Water Associates Ltd. is urging the government to impose a moratorium on the spreading of liquid manure on the farm, as requested by Steele Springs.