Local environmentalists don’t think enough is being done by the province to protect Shuswap Lake from contamination by fertilizer and waste from agricultural sources.
On Feb. 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 among other changes.
Nutrient management plans, which farmers will have to use to show their application of fertilizer is minimizing risks to air and water quality, do not become required in phosphorus affected areas, such as the Shuswap basin, until July 15, 2024. They are currently only required in areas which test high for nitrates.
“To wait five years is not acceptable,” said Shuswap Environmental Action Society (SEAS) president Jim Cooperman.
Cooperman said there are some parts of the new code which will be beneficial to water quality.
“The new code forbids the spreading of manure on fields with over 50 per cent snow coverage, frozen or flooded fields, or if the manure could enter a stream,” said Cooperman.
The Shuswap Water Action Team (SWAT) spokesperson Ray Nadeau says it’s great the province has come up with new regulations for the discharging of manure and fertilizer. But he notes the province’s map identifying high risk area does not include the Shuswap River, “the area we’re mostly concerned about.”
“The other thing is the time it’s going to take for them to start focusing on phosphorous, cleaning up phosphorous, which is the problem we’re facing, is way too long and we’re hoping to work with them so it won’t take anywhere near that long to do that,” said Nadeau, adding, “Shuswap Lake is like an aquifer for many thousands of people who use it for drinking water.”
The B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, who will be overseeing the implementation of the new code of practice, says their efforts in 2019 will focus on education and outreach to ensure agricultural operations understand the new requirements under the code and how it applies to their operations. They stated many farms will not need to make major changes but others will need to make significant improvements to infrastructure or management practices if they are not protective enough of the environment.
Ministry staff and conservation officers will enforce the new code of practice the same way they do provisions of the Environmental Management Act. Cases where there is serious environmental or human impact, or where it is unlikely the subject will comply any other way, will be investigated by the Conservation Officer’s Service. According to the ministry, penalties can be up to $75,000 depending on the nature of the non-compliance.
When the new code of practice was being developed in early 2017, SEAS submitted a brief to the B.C. government group tasked with recommending ways to improve regulations for agricultural practices provincewide to safeguard drinking water quality. SEAS is not satisfied with the way the new code addresses the problem of excess phosphorus making its way into the water in the Shuswap basin.
When it is present in water in excessive quantities, phosphorous can encourage algae growth. Along with making the water unsightly, blue-green algal blooms may be toxic when ingested by wildlife, livestock and humans.
On Friday, March 15, Cooperman had an opportunity to express his concerns with B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman, who was in the region to discuss the Hullcar aquifer – a water source in the North Okanagan believed to have been contaminated by the spreading of liquid manure. Cooperman said the minister responded positively and would get back to him.
One thing Cooperman came away from the meeting with is an appreciation of how important it is for the public to work with province and report when they see manure being spread on snow-covered fields. Calls can be made to the RAPP (Report All Poachers and Polluters) at 1-877-952-7277.