New agricultural waste regulations will not protect water quality

New agricultural waste regulations will not protect water quality

In January 2017, Shuswap Environmental Action Society submitted a brief to the B.C. government’s Agricultural Waste Control Regulations Review that was tasked to provide recommendations to improve regulations for agricultural practices province-wide in order to better safeguard drinking water quality. On February 28, 2019, the Agricultural Waste Control Regulation was replaced by the Agricultural Environmental Management Code of Practice, which provides more rigorous requirements for applying fertilizer and wastes to agricultural lands.

Upon review SEAS has determined that the new Code still does not immediately address the problems caused by excess phosphorus and it allows non-professionals to prepare plans. Initially, nutrient management plans are only required if fields test too high for nitrates and requirements for these plans to address problems caused by excessive phosphorus levels will not be required for five years.

The Code defines qualified professionals as either someone who “is registered in British Columbia with the person’s appropriate professional association, acts under that professional association’s code of ethics and is subject to disciplinary action by that professional association” or “ through suitable education, experience, accreditation and knowledge may be reasonably relied on to provide advice within the person’s area of expertise as it relates to this code.” Any person employed by farmers to prepare plans would be in a conflict of interest and thus these plans could never replace effective oversight by government experts.

While the Shuswap Basin is identified as a “phosphorus-affected area,” the designation does not affect management until the year 2024.

Nonetheless, the new Code does forbid the spreading of manure on fields with over 50% snow coverage, frozen or flooded fields, or if the manure could enter a stream. It requires testing of both nitrates and phosphorus, and stipulates that plans be implemented.

Yet, like a house of cards, the entire new system is dependent upon viable and effective monitoring and enforcement. Any action to prevent pollution from excessive application of agricultural wastes to soils already saturated with phosphorus and/or nitrates is dependent upon the efforts of conservation officers, who already have an excessive workload.

“We are disappointed that the lengthy process to revise the regulations, which began in 2009, did not result in significant improvements to management,” explained Jim Cooperman. “Consequently, it is likely that industrial diary operations that routinely spread liquid manure on fields that already have elevated levels of phosphorus, will continue and thus pose higher risks to water quality in Mara and Shuswap Lakes,” Cooperman added.

Here is where you can find the new legislation and other details about it – BC Environment

Here is the 2007 study about agricultural soils that show how how Shuswap River Valley agricultural soils are already saturated with phosphorus – Okanagan_soil_study_report_2007