A call for improvements to agricultural waste control regulations

Shuswap Water Action Team Society

Shuswap Environmental Action Society

Media Release

January 17, 2018

Shuswap water protection groups call for improvements to agricultural waste control regulations

The Shuswap Water Action Team Society (SWAT) and the Shuswap Environmental Action Society (SEAS) recently submitted a brief to the B.C. government’s Agricultural Waste Control Regulations Review that is tasked to provide recommendations to improve regulations for agricultural practices province-wide in order to better safeguard drinking water quality. The process was prompted by the review of the Hullcar Aquifer, which has been contaminated by elevated levels of nitrates from industrial dairy wastes.

In the Shuswap, concerns about deteriorating lake water quality and corresponding algae blooms resulted in numerous studies and the creation of the Shuswap Watershed Council that is tasked with ongoing monitoring, as well as developing solutions. While the concern in Hullcar is primarily with nitrates and in the Shuswap it is with phosphates, both pollutants are primarily from the same source – cow manure, which is sprayed on fields in liquid form at industrial dairy farms. The application of chemical fertilizers also contributes to the problems.

“Our primary goal in participating in the review was to ensure that any improvements to the regulation also address the growing concerns regarding the rising levels of phosphorus in both river soils and the watershed,” explained SWAT president Ray Nadeau. “One of our key recommendations is that waste control decision making and planning must consider the cumulative effects from years of nutrient loading of soils and water bodies,” added Nadeau.

Currently, nutrient management plans (NMPs), which are an effective way to reduce both nitrogen and phosphorus run-off into water bodies, are only prepared if there are recognized negative impacts. The SEAS/SWAT brief that was prepared by consultant Natalya Melnychuk, PhD, recommends that NMPs be prepared proactively for all large farming operations.

Environmental farm plans (EFPs), which provide farmers and ranchers with opportunities to complete agri-environmental risk assessments, plans, and projects to increase agricultural sustainability, are currently voluntary. SEAS and SWAT have recommended that environmental planning should be mandatory.

“The current “self-reliance” system of agricultural waste control management is clearly not working,” explained Jim Cooperman, SEAS president. “Our brief focuses on the use of the precautionary principle in decision making and the need for improved monitoring and enforcement by government staff to help minimize nutrient run-off into Shuswap rivers and lakes,” he added.

Another key SEAS/SWAT recommendation that has also been made by the Shuswap Watershed Council is that the Shuswap watershed should be designated as a sensitive receiving environment, given documented evidence of stress (e.g., algae blooms) from excess nutrients in the lakes. Also, future nutrient planning should address the recent study that shows 86 percent of fields in the Shuswap River valley already have high to very high levels of residual phosphorus in the soil.

“We believe that the inclusion of our recommendations along with appropriate resources to support farm operators in complying with the new regulations and adequate monitoring and enforcement will help the B.C. government protect water bodies from agriculturally-sourced nutrient loading,” added Cooperman.

Read the complete SEAS&SWAT AWCR Brief


Shuswap organizations want improvements to water protection

B.C. Government conducting agriculture waste review

Tracy Hughes, Shuswap Market News
Feb. 1, 2018
Environmental and water protection groups are calling for increased action from the B.C. government to reduce the impact of agricultural waste on the Shuswap watershed.
In the wake of problems from agricultural waste in the Hullcar aquifer, the B.C. government is conducting an agriculture waste review and has asked local groups to provide input and ideas for improvement.

There is concern in the area for elevated levels of both nitrates and phosphates, which can be linked to waste related to dairy and cattle operations, including the spreading of manure and chemical fertilizers.

The Shuswap Water Action Team (SWAT) is advocating for the urgent need to measure and monitor the cumulative effect of all the waste discharges into the Shuswap and to place a moratorium on new or increased industrial agricultural developments until the impact to the watershed is known.

“The total volume of waste discharges is increasing in the Shuswap, especially with recent increases in industrial agricultural facilities. It’s inevitable that it will ultimately increase contamination of our water,” states the SWAT recommendations. “The Shuswap River is already the largest source of contaminants into our lake.”

They also counter the notion that the industry can police itself, as in the current professional reliance model for following environmental requirements.

“There will always be those that don’t follow regulations, so independent monitoring and inspections are essential, along with increased authority over agriculture volumes and locations.”

Ray Nadeau, president of SWAT says without these changes, “our water will continue to deteriorate indefinitely.”

The Shuswap Environmental Action Society echoes the SWAT recommendations and want to see mandatory environmental planning.

“Our brief focuses on the use of the precautionary principle in decision-making and the need for improved monitoring an enforcement by government staff to help minimize nutrient run-off into Shuswap Rivers and lakes, ” says spokesperson Jim Cooperman.

The Shuswap Watershed Council, also sent recommendations, and chairperson Paul Demenok, says their approach was to “take a balanced view of the issue so that both environmental and economic interests are taken into consideration.”

“On the one hand we have the lakes and rivers that support our tourism economy and are enjoyed by our residents. On the other hand we have a critically important agricultural industry right her in our region, contributing to locally grown food. Our perspective is that a revised agricultural waste regulation should take all of that into account.”

Points made in their submission included considering designating the Shuswap watershed as a “sensitive receiving environment,” and collaborating with the ministry to define what that term means, requiring nutrient management planning in the region, more protective measures for setbacks from water sources and storage to eliminate leachate and developing a strategy to regulate small lot holdings.