NEW BC GOVERNMENT BRINGS REVIEW OF THE HULLCAR AQUIFER NITRATE SITUATION
This story is brought to you in part by Proteus Waters
By Cori Marshall
People in Armstrong who are supplied with water from the Steele Springs Waterworks District have been living under a drinking water advisory for three years. Residents received a notice from Interior Health in July 2014 informing them that "the shallow aquifer located in [their] area is showing high levels of Nitrates." The summer of 2017 has brought a change in guard in Victoria, and the new New Democratic Party (NDP) government recently announced that it will conduct a review of the aquifer.
On August 3, 2017, Interior Health and the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, sent a letter to resident announcing that "the Inter-Ministry Working Group [would be] conducting a sampling program in the Hullcar area," of Armstrong BC. This program will be conducted "in addition to any other sampling initiatives in the area." The tests that will be conducted will look for nitrates, total coliforms, and E. coli.
Residents can have their water samples tested for free on a voluntary basis on Tuesday, August 22 and Thursday, August 31.
The Ministry of Environment commented on the situation. The government has engaged in "a new review of the Hullcar Aquifer, with the end goal of ensuring agricultural practices are consistent with the provision of clean, safe drinking water." The review will look at the actions taken since 2014 and the farming practices that are currently in use. This endeavour "is expected to provide forward-looking recommendations that may help inform best practices for the agricultural sector."
J. Ivor Norlin, Manager of Infrastructure Programs for Interior Health said that their "role [in the review] has yet to be determined, but [they] will provide government with whatever support is necessary throughout the process."
For a local perspective, we spoke with longtime area resident Raymond Hitt.
Hitt, 85, feels that "it's about time," the government takes another look at the aquifer. Despite the Nitrate levels the local resident still uses water supplied by the aquifer, "mainly in coffee and tea."
Hitt was "born and raised in Armstrong, and grew up drinking Steele Springs water." The Armstrong native's father "was a Steele Springs Waterworks District Trustee in the 1930s and 40s." Hitt still feels a sense of pride when it comes to the district's water "it was known as some of the best water around," he said.
When asked what he would like to see as an outcome of the government review, Hitt said "I'd like to see the aquifer cleaned up."
It is believed that the nitrate contamination is linked to the manure that is sprayed on local farms as fertilizer. Environmental Protection staff performed on-site inspections of four farms in the area during their routine duties in 2016. Their inspection reports indicate that for the most part, the farms were in compliance with the BC Agricultural Waste Control Regulation. One farm, in particular, the Grace-Mar Farms Ltd., Armstrong Dairy Facility was only in compliance with 2 requirements while being in noncompliance for 2, the other three results were either not applicable or staff was unable to determine.
The BC government taking another hard look at the water quality in the Hullcar Aquifer is a good thing. Up to date information can only lead to better choices being made by residents, government, and farms moving forward.