Unfortunately, the Interior Health Authority has not suggested anything to solve the nitrate pollution problems of the Steele Springs Waterworks District that the district trustees haven’t suggested themselves (IHA suggests options for Spallumcheen water district, Oct. 24).
Hooking up to a municipal water system (Armstrong) or “investigation of local deeper wells in the surrounding area,” are among the long and short-term solutions Steele Springs is investigating with the help of Spallumcheen council and support of Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo.
The question with all possible solutions is, who is going to pay? Steele Springs has been upgrading its pumping equipment and water line for several years, through long-term loans. We still have one section of line from Dodds Road. to the end of Round Prairie to go, and estimate that with our water tolls as they stand, it will be four years before we have enough saved to qualify for a loan for that improvement. This project will bring our system up to the standard required by Armstrong to be able to join them, if they have enough water.
But to make that move, we would also have to install a whole new pump house where Round Prairie meets Salmon River Road., in order to pump the water up to the top of Schubert Road. and beyond. That would be a massive investment, when many of our water users are seniors on fixed incomes. Likewise, drilling a well into the deeper aquifer would be a huge cost, and many of the wells into that aquifer are only used for farm irrigation because of the turbidity in the water. Filtration to make it suitable for drinking would increase the cost considerably.
Many of us on the Steele Springs water system have willingly installed softeners, reverse osmosis systems and nitrate filters to make the water potable, costing several thousand dollars each. Others are buying bottled water, while some can afford nothing and are forced to drink the water untreated, despite IHA’s do not drink advisory.
Steele Springs has provided good drinking water for its users for more than 90 years. It could still do so, if it were not for the nitrate pollution in the springs. It could again if the ministries of health, environment and agriculture can find a way to stop the pollution and remediate the aquifer.
There appear to be several programs accessible to farmers to assist them financially to upgrade their equipment to be more environmentally friendly. Kyllo and Spallumcheen council are working to determine if there are similar resources that could help Steele Springs Waterworks District find a solution to a problem that is not of our own making. Making the water users pay beyond what they already are shelling out is beyond unfair. It is frightening.
If it can happen to us in Spall, it can happen to any water system, including Armstrong’s.
We are hoping Spallumcheen council and the provincial ministries will work together for a fair resolution of our situation, which will include bringing the aquifer back to its former health. We are happy to work with them, as we have been. But beyond that, we need legislative protection to ensure this doesn’t happen anywhere else. Industrial-scale farming over a sensitive aquifer must not be allowed without strict guidelines and oversight. And we are hoping that the provincial government will rethink its reliance on a complaint-based system rather than monitoring and enforcement of regulations by qualified and experienced staff in each of the ministries.
Because, by the time a ministry such as Interior Health receives a complaint about nitrate pollution in an aquifer, it is too late. There is no quick fix, no matter how good it sounds. And there is no inexpensive fix either.
It is a problem that is easier and cheaper to prevent than to solve.
Al Price, trustee
Steele Springs Waterworks District