Hullcar aquifer information


The Clcahl/Hullcar Aquifer is the primary source of drinking water for residents of the Clcahl/Hullcar Valley. The Steele Springs Waterworks District (SSWD), which serves approximately 250 residents, and approximately 22 private water wells draw water from the aquifer.

All residents of the Township of Spallumcheen who live within the Clcahl/Hullcar Aquifer area were on an advisory by the Interior Health Authority (IHA) between March 2014 and June 2018. Nitrate levels at the SSWD drinking water overflow consistently exceeded the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines’ maximum allowable nitrate concentration (10 mg/L), triggering the advisory. The SSWD installed a new well, pump house and chlorination system and the Water Quality Advisory was lifted in March 2019. However, shallow monitoring wells continue to show elevated levels of nitrate when sampled. 

The Ministry of Land Water and Resource Stewardship is working collaboratively with Splatsin, the Interior Health Authority, and the ministries of Agriculture and Food, Health, Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, Forests, and Environment and Climate Change Strategy on water quality issues within the aquifer.

Splatsin links this collaborative process to one of the key Secwépemc values, ‘Knucwentwecw’, meaning ‘helping each other’.  It is with this value that their ancestors welcomed and helped the settlers who came to Canada. This value guides our collective work towards a place where clean drinking water will be available to all.

There are two main types of aquifers in B.C.: confined and unconfined. Confined aquifers are overlain by a confining layer, typically composed of clay, silt and/or till, that acts as a protective “shield” from contamination originating at the land surface. Unconfined aquifers have no confining layer and are often composed of sand. In general, unconfined aquifers are more vulnerable to impacts from human activities than confined or partially confined aquifers. The Clcahl/Hullcar Aquifer is unconfined and approximately 21.8 km2 in size. For more information, follow this link on Understanding Aquifers

B.C. has adopted the drinking water standards set by the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Committee on Drinking Water and published by Health Canada. These standards are used by jurisdictions across Canada to establish drinking water quality requirements and are known as the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality. These guidelines are the minimum that water systems should strive for and are designed to protect the health of the most vulnerable members of society, such as children and the elderly.

Nitrates are chemical compounds essential for all living things. They form naturally in the environment when nitrogen combines with oxygen. However, some human activities cause excess levels of nitrate in the environment, which can be dangerous to human health. Common sources of nitrates include:

  • agricultural activities,
  • wastewater treatment,
  • septic systems,
  • industrial processes, and
  • motor vehicles

The health impacts of nitrate exposure depend on:

  • the amount of nitrate a person is exposed to,
  • how long the person was exposed to the nitrates,
  • the person’s age, and
  • the person’s pre-existing health conditions

Infants younger than six months old are at the highest risk from nitrates in drinking water as they cannot digest them. This may result in methemglobinemia, or blue-baby syndrome, which affects the amount of oxygen being carried in the blood, resulting in a bluish skin colour.

Long-term exposure to nitrates above the Canada Water Quality Guidelines may also impact thyroid gland function and may be associated with certain types of cancer. However, there is not enough evidence to classify nitrate as a carcinogen. More information can be found in Health Canada’s technical document on nitrates


Key inter-ministry actions and timeline

Drinking Water Advisory 2014

Between January 2014 and February 2016, sampling of the Steele Springs drinking water source showed nitrate levels increasing from 8.8 mg/L to 13.3 mg/L. The Canadian Drinking Water standard for nitrate is 10 mg/L. 

On July 14, 2014, the Interior Health Authority issued a Water Quality Advisory to all residents of the Township of Spallumcheen, including Splatsin community members, who reside within the designated area of the Clcahl/Hullcar Aquifer. The advisory stated:

“Pregnant women, babies under 6 months of age, the elderly, and individuals with weakened immune systems, or chronic heart, lung and blood conditions should take precautions and use an alternative source of water (ex. bottled water) at this time. For bottle fed infants, use an alternate source of water to mix infant formula for infants less than 6 months of age.”

2017 Provincial Review and POLIS Recommendation Report

In 2017 the Province announced an independent review of the Clcahl/Hullcar Aquifer to:

  • ensure that agricultural practices were aligned with the provision and protection of clean, safe drinking water for all British Columbians and
  • guide the development of new approaches and future decisions around agricultural waste management in the Clcahl/Hullcar Valley.

The review by the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance was focussed on the Clcahl/Hullcar Aquifer, but also benefited other areas of B.C. where agricultural waste management activities may threaten drinking water.

Provincial response plan 

In response to the POLIS Recommendations Report, the Provincial Government completed the Hullcar (Clcahl*) Aquifer Response Plan (PDF) and initiated an Inter-Agency Working Group (IAWG) to address its recommendations. 

Those recommendations requiring immediate and short-term action were addressed by the IAWG, and recommendations requiring longer-term actions are now underway. These include:

  • providing regular environmental reporting of the monitoring program (ongoing)
  • reviewing (ongoing)
    • the public health risks associated with manure leaching to groundwater
    • the use of water quality guidelines and regulatory responses applied by the respective agencies
    • the adequacy of timeframe for responses, and
  • investigating the use of anaerobic digesters utilizing manure to produce renewable natural gas (complete)
  • establishing an Advisory Board, including First Nations, rights holders, stakeholders, and key government representatives, to formally provide advice on: (pending)
    • appropriate legislative planning tool(s) under the Water Sustainability Act
    • potential water objectives for the Clcahl/Hullcar Aquifer
    • best practices for irrigation and other water use
    • soil and water nitrate targets, and
    • the best environmental monitoring program to support the planning tool(s).

The dropdown menus below provide further information about key events that occurred prior to 2017.


These documents are sorted by contributing ministry. All documents below are PDFs unless otherwise stated:

Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy (ENV)

Ministry of Agriculture (AGRI)

Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRO)


Reports and data


Compliance inspections and managing environmental risk

Environmental Protection staff have shared resources on best management practices and ensured agricultural operators in the Clcahl/Hullcar Valley are aware of their responsibilities and regulatory requirements under the Code of Practice for Agricultural Environmental Management.

The Province has also conducted inspections and issued pollution abatement and prevention orders to agricultural operators across Clcahl/Hullcar Valley.

  • Pollution abatement orders force a person or group to take immediate action to manage risks to human health and the environment.
  • Pollution prevention orders force a person or group to prevent the release of a substance into the environment that will cause pollution.

The purpose of these orders is to reduce and prevent agricultural waste from entering the Clcahl/Hullcar Aquifer.

The new Code of Practice for Agricultural Environmental Management came into effect on February 28, 2019. It applies to all agricultural operations in B.C., from small hobby farms to large commercial operations and aims to ensure that drinking water, watercourses and air are protected. The Clcahl/Hullcar Valley is the first place the Code is being implemented in B.C.

The following documents regarding Nutrient Management Plans and soil, moisture and manure data are subject to copyright and are being disclosed to the public under section 25 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, as permitted under section 32.1(1) of the Copyright Act.

This disclosure does not constitute a licence to exercise the rights of the copyright owner, as set out in the Copyright Act, including the right to reproduce, distribute and publish these documents.

Orders no longer in effect