2019 Highlight #2: Protecting Drinking Water Province-wide

In the last year, our work in documenting the lack of enforcement of drinking water contamination led to province-wide improvements to control agricultural waste. This result means better drinking water protections for the entire province.

It started in 2016 when the community group Save Hullcar Aquifer Team alerted the ELC to the problem of agricultural waste polluting their aquifer with nitrate contamination. Suspecting a concentration of dairy cows and the spraying of liquid manure on the land in the area as the root cause, the ELC requested that the regional health authority issue a drinking water protection order.

In response to our request, the Ministry of Environment issued 10 pollution abatement orders to farms in the area and the province set up a task force to create an Area-Based Management Plan and develop new Agricultural Waste Control Regulations.

Another issue that arose during this process was government’s refusal to release documents showing the level of nitrates in the farm field above the drinking water aquifer. The ELC made a request to the Information Commissioner to invoke section 25 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act in order to release the data relevant to the drinking water contamination – and she did. (Around this same time, the ELC also made submissions to the Legislature’s Committee on Freedom of Information, which incorporated some of our law reform recommendations in its final report.)

When the government released its proposed Area-Based Management Plan, the ELC provided a series of recommendations for local and provincial law reform to address systemic concerns in order to ensure citizens in the Hullcar Valley and elsewhere can have clean drinking water and to avoid the same problem happening again.

In November 2018, the government released its Hullcar (Clcahl) Aquifer Response Plan Report, which committed to numerous initiatives to better protect drinking water in the Valley and across the province. Some of the commitments included providing alternative drinking water for residents; a collaborative process for water governance with the Splatsin Nation; a local multi-stakeholder water advisory board; increased information posted about drinking water quality, monitoring results and enforcement actions; and government support for farmers to adopt best management practices and to use anaerobic digesters to convert manure into natural gas. 

In January 2019, the ELC provided recommendations in response to the provincial government’s Agricultural Waste Control Regulation Review Intentions Paper.

The adoption of the provincial Code of Practice for Agricultural Environmental Management followed in February 2019, which provides for improvements to regulations for agricultural waste control, which will result in better drinking water outcomes across the province.

Our clients were thrilled:

It is difficult to find the words to express how grateful we are for the enormous effort you have made in helping the Save Hullcar Aquifer Team. We would still be flapping our gums and preaching to the tens of people already on our side without you. Your skills and persistence, focus and commitment leave us in awe. You have given us hope and confidence that we can eventually succeed in our goal of having safe drinking water, if not for our generation then certainly the next.

In July 2019, the Auditor General came out with a comprehensive report that was critical of provincial government’s failure to adequately protect drinking water and proposed eight recommendations. One of the key case studies cited was the Hullcar Valley situation.

Drinking water contamination continues to be a concern for ELC clients, and we will continue to assist communities protect this important resource in the New Year.