Steele Springs water source a concern

Nitrate levels remain a concern in a Spallumcheen water district source.

Nitrate levels remain a concern in a Spallumcheen water district source.

Brian Upper, chairperson for the Steele Springs Water District, gave council a verbal update which came with graphics.

A reports shows that, in 2015, nitrate levels have reached as high 12.50 parts per million (PPM) in December, and a low of 9.00 in September.

In 2014, the highest levels – 12.70 PPM – were recorded in June. The lowest levels were recorded in January at 7.01 PPM.

The water district has been under a Do Not Drink advisory from Interior Health since March 2014 because nitrate levels in the water source went past the 10 PPM maximum allowed under the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines.

“We need a separate sensitive zone designation for both of the Hullcar aquifers (water source) with a monitoring system,” said Upper.

The Steele Springs Water District, in March, called for a moratorium on spraying effluent by the owners/operators of a large dairy operation or anyone else on what has been called the “field of concern” adjacent to Steele Springs.

The moratorium call was unanimously supported by township council.

It came after a meeting in February featuring representatives of Steele Springs, the farm, the township, ministries of health, environment and agriculture, B.C. Dairy Association, Hullcar Valley Association and Mountainview Electric to discuss the Steele Springs situation.

The water district insisted that the spraying of effluent on the field stop for the 2015 crop season while funding was sought for a comprehensive study on the aquifer.

A compliance order issued in 2014 states the farm can only spray effluent with permission, which it did in July and August of this year.

“The compliance order did reduce the amount of manure put on the fields, but it’s not quite enough,” said Upper, who called for council to continue to put pressure on the provincial ministries.

Council brought up the matter at September’s Union of B.C. Municipalities  convention in Vancouver.

“Everyone we talked to, we tried not to make it a Steele Springs issue but more about protecting the aquifers,” said Coun. Christine Fraser.

Coun. Joe Van Tienhoven said the township requested that the ministry of environment go deeper in testing the soil than the standard 12 to 24 inches.

“We asked them to go two, three, four, five feet,” said Van Tienhoven. “We want to know what’s lurking down there and if that’s adding to the issue.”

Upper said the testing is supposed to go down to 36 inches, but the ministry “won’t release soil test data to us.”

That goes against what was agreed to at the February meeting when all sides said they would share information and data.

In a recent letter to the township, Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick said the compliance order remains in place.

“The ministry of environment has indicated that based on the expertise of the qualified professional and assessment by MoE staff, they believe the application rate will remain protective of the aquifer based on all analysis provided,” wrote Letnick.

Letnick added in his letter that agriculture regional manager Greg Tegart and provincial soil specialist David Poon have indicated that the farm in question “has an unusual combination of factors including very watery manure and coarse soil type that lead to a potential high risk of nitrate contamination of groundwater.”

During the 2015 field season, the ministry of agriculture supported new plans to restrict manure applications based on criteria for soil nitrae.

“This criteria and frequency of testing would be unnecessary or an undue burden for most other farms,” said Letnick. “But are warranted on the farm in question given the risk factors and water quality records.”

Council told Steele Springs it would continue to support the water district in its quest for a solution.