Planning for Agriculture and Safe Water

Agricultural waste can wreak havoc on the environment and affect drinking water quality. Community group Save Hullcar Aquifer Team acutely alerted us to this problem when they came to us with concerns about nitrate contamination of their aquifer. 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 a drinking water protection order. In response, 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.

Building on this past work, we recently responded to government’s proposed Area-Based Management Plan with a series of recommendations for local and provincial law reform. We needed to address systemic concerns in order to ensure citizens in the Hullcar Valley and elsewhere can have clean drinking water and that the same problem won’t happen again.

ELC student research showed that BC is way behind other jurisdictions on regulating nutrients. Our report puts forward a number of solutions that have worked in places like Washington, Ontario and the European Union. For example, with new technologies, it is possible to feed plants by the teaspoonful and only the plants that need fertilization. It’s also possible to identify areas on a farm where aquifers are vulnerable.

Not only the Hullcar Valley is at risk. Nitrate contamination problems affect places like Comox Valley, Cowichan Valley, Okanagan Valley and the Fraser Valley. Without proper nutrient management on a provincial scale, we will continue to have water quality problems in BC.

Our report focuses on five recommendations:

  1. Place a cap on dairy cow density for farms that spread their manure on site;
  2. Require nutrient management plans that limit manure applications to non-polluting levels;
  3. Require adequate manure storage facilities;
  4. Support opportunities for alternative manure processing technologies; and
  5. Expand Land Use Management Planning measures.

In response to our report, government invited us to meet and talk more specifically about our ideas for provincial law reform. We look forward to using our report as a model for sustainable development in other dairy-farming valleys in BC. We’ll keep you posted.