SPALLUMCHEEN – There was clear frustration at a public meeting in Spallumcheen Thursday night. The aim was for provincial ministries and the local health authority to explain the province’s plan to deal with high nitrate levels in a local drinking water supply.
“Sure the public is frustrated. I understand that,” conceded Rob Birtles with the Interior Health Authority. “We had to give the public an opportunity to provide comment back to us. We had to have an opportunity to provide information to the public. We are moving forward with our action plan and we will come back to the public.”
Some have been living with a water quality advisory since 2014 because of high levels of nitrates in their water source: the Hullcar Aquifer.
In July 2014 the health authority recommended babies, the elderly and those with certain health conditions not use the water from that aquifer because of the nitrate levels.
“We can’t drink the water from the tap that is the bottom line,” said resident Ric Parker. “A couple times a week I’ve got to go get a five gallon jug [and] take it up for my elderly parents because they can’t drink the water from the tap.”
The provincial plan includes inspecting farms and reviewing water quality data with the stated aims of “scientifically” determining where the nitrates are coming from and having safe drinking water.
But some were clearly not satisfied with the meeting.
“This is a real serious issue for everyone in this valley and we don’t see government doing a heck of a lot to protect us,” shouted one man.
“There have been a whole series of meetings and discussions have been going on and on and on and really nothing is moving forward,” said Parker.
Read More: IHA investigating high nitrate levels in water supply
However, the health authority says it needs data to back up its actions.
“The request has been to issue a Section 25 order under the Drinking Water Protection Act. In this case we would have to have some form of empirical evidence to indicate who the offenders are in this aquifer,” said Birtles. “When I say offenders these are the nutrient contributors.”
Read More: Interior Health pushed to act on nitrate in drinking water
However, the public also had questions about why it is taking government so long to officially pinpoint the causes.
Al Price, of the advocacy group Save Hullcar Aquifer Team, pointed out that as far back as July 2014 interior health said it was “involved in investigating the source of the nitrates” along with the Environment Ministry.
“That is two years ago. If they can’t figure it out in two years, there is something wrong. Either that or they haven’t really been doing what they said they were going to do,” says Price.
Interior Health has argued in the past that it is difficult to tell where the nitrates in the aquifer are coming from as there are many public practices that can contribute.
“The land over top of the Hullcar Aquifer is agricultural and residential based. Everyone is actually contributing nitrates to that aquifer via their animals, via their agricultural practices, septic systems [and] lawn nitrification,” said Birtle in February. “All those practices do contribute.”
The Ministry of Environment says it is “taking all necessary actions to ensure the residents of Spallumcheen have safe drinking water, while preserving the region’s agriculture economy.”
However, it seems officials have a way to go to convince the public their plan will be enough to fix the problem.