Hullcar aquifer information
The Hullcar aquifer is a drinking water source for the Hullcar Valley for the Steele Springs Waterworks District (SSWD), a small water system located within the Township of Spallumcheen which provides water for up to 250 residents, through 53 connections. Interior Health is also aware of an additional 22 private water wells, which draw water from the Hullcar aquifer and are not connected to the Steele Springs Waterworks system.
The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy (ENV) is working collaboratively with the Interior Health Authority, Ministry of Agriculture (AGRI) and the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) on water quality issues within the aquifer. This cross-government team is focused on identifying significant sources of pollutants, assessing a variety of approaches to resolving the water quality issue, as well as conducting monitoring of the activities above the aquifer.
Between March 2014 and June 2018, nitrate levels consistently exceeded the maximum allowable nitrate concentration (10 mg/L) under the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines at the Steele Springs Water District drinking water overflow. In March 2019 the Interior Health Authority Water Quality Advisory issued in 2014 was rescinded following the installation of a new Steele Springs Water District well, pump house and chlorination system. However, monitoring wells continue to show elevated aquifer nitrate concentrations.
On August 13, 2019, Environmental Protection Officers inspected Hullcar Valley sites that were under the Environmental Management Act Pollution Abatement and Pollution Prevention Orders to assess compliance with outstanding requirements in the Orders. Based on the results of these inspections, it was confirmed that conditions prescribed in the Orders have been satisfied. Effective September 24, 2019, the Orders are no longer in effect.
The new Code of Practice for Agricultural Environmental Management came into effect on February 28, 2019. The new Code of Practice 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 Code is being implemented in a phased manner, with the Hullcar Valley being the first area in B.C.
Drinking water standards are set by the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Committee on Drinking Water and published by Health Canada. These standards come in the form of drinking water guidelines that identify levels of parameters to ensure the water is safe to drink. These guidelines are used by every jurisdiction in Canada and are the basis for establishing drinking water quality requirements for all Canadians. More information can be found on the Health Canada website.
Sampling of the Steele Springs drinking water source has shown increasing nitrate levels from 8.8 mg/L in January 2014 to 13.3 mg/L in February 2016. The Canadian Drinking Water standard for nitrates 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 that reside within the designated area of the Hullcar Aquifers (102 and 103). 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 (for example, 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.
The drinking water advisory was issued due to the level of Nitrates. Nitrate are widespread in the environment. They are naturally produced by the oxidation of nitrogen by microorganisms in plants, soil and water. However, the most common sources of nitrate substances are human activities, including agricultural activities, wastewater treatment, and discharges from industrial processes and motor vehicles. Most nitrate reduction in the soil occurs through plant uptake and utilization, whereas surplus nitrates readily leach into groundwater. The nitrate ion is negatively charged and does not adsorb to clay minerals or organic matter in soils unless they have a significant anion exchange capacity, which is uncommon in Canada. Generally, it is assumed that nitrate will not adsorb to soil particles and will have a high potential for mobility. (Source: Health Canada Water Quality Guideline for Nitrates-Nitrite)
There are two main types of aquifers in B.C.: confined and unconfined. A confined aquifer is one that is overlain by a confining layer. The confining layer, which offers a protective 'shield' from contamination from the land surface, is typically composed of clay, silt or till. As a result, confined aquifers tend to be less vulnerable to contamination than unconfined aquifers. An unconfined or water table aquifer is one where there is with no overlying confining layer. In general, unconfined aquifers are more vulnerable to impacts from human activities than confined or partially confined aquifers. For more information, see Guide to Using the B.C. Aquifer Classification Maps for the Protection and Management of Ground Water (PDF).
Hullcar aquifer 103 is unconfined and approximately 14 km2 in size (defined by area of groundwater development). Water levels vary from 1.5 to 14 metres below the surface; this depth information is based on data within the BC WELLS Database. The thickness of aquifer 103 varies from three to 45 meters. The aquifer has been classified by the Ministry of Environment as IIA (moderately developed, high vulnerability), due to the moderate level of groundwater development and the high vulnerability to contamination.
The health impact of nitrates is methaemoglobinemia. Scientific studies show cases of methaemoglobinemia occurring in bottle-fed infants, which are the vulnerable population for these effects. Recent evidence from animal and human studies suggests that effects on thyroid gland function are also an end-point of concern. Studies have seen an effect in school-age children, but no study has looked at this health effect in infants, who would also be expected to be the most vulnerable population for this health effect. In addition, current science suggests an association between cancer and exposure to nitrates in drinking water when conditions result in nitrosation within the human body. (Source: Health Canada Water Quality Guideline for Nitrates-Nitrite)
The Ministry of Environment has acted to identify and quantify potential sources of nitrates by collecting and reviewing water quality sample data within the Hullcar Valley since 2014. An Inspector’s Order was issued to HS Jansen Dairy and an Information Order to Regehr Feedlot which set operational requirements for both agricultural operators. The ministry is currently leading the inter-ministry response and, is/has actioned each item in the Inter-ministry Hullcar Aquifer Working Group Action Plan.
Key inter-ministry actions and timeline
Provincial response plan
In response to the POLIS Recommendations Report (referenced below), the Provincial Government has completed the Hullcar (Clcahl*) Aquifer Response Plan (PDF). On receipt of the POLIS Recommendations Report, the Provincial Government initiated an Inter-Agency Working Group to address the recommendations. Each recommendation in the POLIS report was reviewed to identify if the actions were already underway, and if not, determine the feasibility of implementing the recommendation as presented; or whether the recommendation would be more appropriate implemented in an alternative way. POLIS recommendations requiring immediate and short-term action were addressed by the working group, and recommendations requiring longer term are underway and include
- establishing an Advisory Board, including First Nations, rights holders, stakeholders and key government representatives, to formally provide advice on
- appropriate legislative planning tool(s) under the Water Sustainability Act for the Hullcar valley and possibly establishing water objectives for the Hullcar aquifer
- best practices for irrigation and other water use
- establishing soil and water nitrate targets
- identifying the best environmental monitoring program to support the planning tool(s)
- providing regular environmental reporting of the monitoring program
- completing a review of the public health risks associated with manure leaching to groundwater; use of water quality guidelines and regulatory responses applied by the respective agencies against the legislative requirements to trigger inter-agency or public notification, regulatory enforcement or compliance action; and adequacy of timeframe for responses
- supporting the use of anaerobic digesters utilizing manure to produce renewable natural gas
* Clcahl is the name used by the Splats’in people for their traditional territory around the Salmon River.
2017 Provincial review and POLIS recommendation report
On August 2, 2017, an independent review of the Hullcar Aquifer was announced with the goal of ensuring practices from the agricultural sector are aligned the provision and protection of clean, safe drinking water for all British Columbians.
The review of the Hullcar Aquifer situation is meant to inform the development of new approaches and inform future decisions around agricultural waste management specifically in the Hullcar Valley as well as have benefits to other areas of British Columbia where there are threats to drinking water from neighbouring agricultural waste management activities. An independent reviewer, Dr. Oliver Brandes, led the review with a team from the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance. Government staff from the ministries of Environment and Climate Change Strategy (ENV) and Agriculture (AGRI) supported the review.
The POLIS Recommendations Report received by government can be found at From Crisis to Solutions: Towards Better Source Water Protection and Nutrient Management in the Hullcar Valley (PDF). Recommendations focus on law and governance reform to improve source water protection. Comments regarding the report were collected and are available as a Summary of Comments received on POLIS report (PDF).
In addition to the release of the Recommendations Report, a new Agriculture Waste Control Regulation Intentions Paper has been released on the Agriculture Environmental Management site and a 45 day public consultation period was open until January 15, 2018.
Transparency is critical for understanding the situation. Government documents produced to inform the review can be found below. Many of these documents are referenced in POLIS’ Recommendation Report.
These documents are sorted by contributing ministry. All documents below are PDFs unless otherwise stated:
Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy (ENV)
- Key Documents, Rationale and Information Supporting Government Actions in Response to the Hullcar Issue ENV - Sept 25 2017
- Memorandum on Hullcar Situation Summary ENV - Sept 25 2017
- Memo on Stakeholder Comments and Data Summary ENV- Sept 25 2017
- Hullcar Chronology ENV - Sept 21 2017
- Hullcar Roles and Responsibilities ENV - Sept 20 2017
- Memo on Hullcar Aquifer from E. Dennis Einarson ENV - Sept 11 2017
- EMA Orders Handbook ENV Strategic Policy Branch - Mar 31 2017
- AWCR Review - Synopsis Memo ENV - Sept 15 2017
- Draft AWCR Proposed Final Policy ENV - 2016
- Summary of Comments from the 2nd AWCR Intention Paper ENV - Sept 2015
- AWCR Review 2nd Policy Intentions Paper ENV - July 2015
- Summary of Comments from the 1st AWCR Intention Paper ENV - Nov 2012
- AWCR Review 1st Policy Intentions Paper ENV - Jan 2012
- R. McDougall AWCR Jurisdictional Review Report ENV - March 2010
Ministry of Agriculture (AGRI)
- Nutrient Management Practices: Technical Report AGRI - Oct 2017
- Review of Nutrient Management Planning in BC AGRI - Sept 2017
- Jurisdictional Scan Nutrient Management Regulations AGRI - Sept 2017
- Jurisdictional Scan of Agricultural Cost Share and Support Programs AGRI - Sept 2017
- Summary of Nutrient Management Technology Options in the Context of Hullcar AGRI - Sept 2017
- Summary of Manure Handling Systems in the Context of Hullcar AGRI - Oct 2017
- Technical Brief for Nutrient Management AGRI - Oct 2017
- Technical Brief for Land Application AGRI - Nov 23 2015
- Technical Brief for Permanent Storage AGRI - Nov 23 2015
- Technical Brief for Temporary Field Storage AGRI - Nov 23 2015
Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRO)
- August 03, 2017 Letter from Interior Health Authority regarding Private Well Testing in Hullcar Private Well Sampling Opportunity (PDF)
- August 2, 2017, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman announced a new review of the Hullcar Aquifer, with the end goal of ensuring agricultural practices are consistent with the provision and protection of clean, safe drinking water. The Ministry sought input from the public until August 31, 2017.
- March 8, 2017 Letter from ENV to IHA Summarizing Environmental Study Findings (PDF)
- May 16, 2016 - Inter-Agency Working Group met with Brian Upper, Steele Springs Water District and Doug Geller, Senior Hydrogeologist/President, Western Water and Associates Ltd. (WWAL) to review WWAL data and technical information that supported their open letter.
- May 13, 2016 - ENV lead discussions in separate meetings with agricultural operators, Steele Springs Water District, Township of Spallumcheen and Save Hullcar Aquifer Team introducing the concept of developing an area based management plan for Hullcar Valley.
- May 12, 2016 - Pollution Abatement Orders were issued to seven agricultural operators above the Hullcar Aquifer.
- April 14, 2016 - Inter-ministry Hullcar Aquifer Working Group meeting with Hullcar Community (PDF)
- March 21, 2016 - Inter-ministry Hullcar Aquifer Working Group meeting with agriculture industry located above Hullcar aquifer (PDF)
- March 21, 2016 - Inter-ministry Hullcar Aquifer Working Group meeting with representatives from Splatsin First Nation, Township of Spallumcheen Steele Springs Water District (SSWD) and Save Hullcar Aquifer Team (PDF)
- March 11, 2016 - Inter-ministry Hullcar Aquifer Working Group Action Plan (PDF)
- February 16, 2016 - Ministry of Environment becomes the lead agency in the integrated Hullcar Aquifer water quality response
- February 4, 2016 - Ministry of Agriculture reactivates inter-ministry technical working group with membership from Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources and Interior Health Authority
- December 11, 2015 - Response closed to Freedom of Information request by University of Victoria, Environmental Law Center
- August 31, 2015 - Ministry of Environment approved nutrient application for 6,000 gal/acre to Jansen farmland (PDF)
- July 15, 2015 - Ministry of Environment approved nutrient application for 6,000 gal/acre to Jansen farmland (PDF)
- June 12, 2015 - Ministry of Environment denied nutrient application for 8,000 gal/acre to Jansen farmland (PDF)
- August 27, 2014 - Ministry of Environment approved nutrient application for 12,000 gallons per acre to Jansen farmland (PDF)
- July 14, 2014 - Interior Health Authority Issued a Water Quality Advisory for users of Hullcar aquifer (PDF)
- April 16, 2014 - Ministry of Environment approved nutrient application for 15,000 gallons per acre to Jansen farmland (PDF)
- March 6, 2014 - Ministry of Environment issued a S.112 Inspection Order to H.S. Jansen Dairy (PDF)
- March 6, 2014 - Ministry of Environment issued an Information Order (107156) to Regehr Feedlot
- February 13, 2014 - ENV staff requests assistance from several AGRI staff regarding soil trend analysis provided by Okanagan Fertilizer. As well, requested advice and recommendation regarding types of crops planted.
- February 11-13, 2014 - ENV staff corresponds with IHA staff regarding the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality for Nitrates and the health impact for high nitrate levels.
- February 3, 2014 - ENV staff received water sample results from SSWD overflow and provided them to IHA staff, Dr. Upper, co-chair SSWD and Conservation Officer Service.
- February 2, 2014 - ENV staff initiates pre-investigative referral to Conservation Officer Service for H.S. Jansen Dairy.
- January 21, 2014 - ENV staff, responding to a complaint of high nitrates in Steele Springs drinking water overflow, had inspected the area including H.S. Jansen dairy farm.
Reports and data
- Soil Nitrate Survey of Agricultural Fields in the Hullcar Valley in 2020 – Final Report (PDF, 274KB) April 2021
- 2019-20 Post-Harvest Nitrate Study – Final Report (PDF, 1.7MB) December 2020
- 2018-19 Post-Harvest Nitrate Study – Final Report (PDF, 1.1MB) March 10, 2020
- Hullcar Valley (Clacahl) Groundwater Observation Well Installation (PDF, 5MB) September 23, 2019
- Assessment Comparing Steele Springs to Deep Creek (PDF) May 7, 2018
- 2017 Post Harvest Nitrate Study (PDF) March 29, 2018
- 2017 Post-Harvest Nutrient Study: Hullcar Valley March 29, 2018
- Summary of Comments received on POLIS report (PDF) March 26, 2018
- FLNR Memo to ENV - Well & SS Water Supply Inspections (PDF, 2.1MB) - April 2017
- Integrated Monitoring Study - Phase 1 and 2 Assessment, Golder Associates (PDF, 24MB)- February 24, 2017
- Chart and Summary of Environmental Studies (PDF) - January 18, 2017
- MOE Review of the Hullcar Aquifer Water Quality Results (PDF) - May 5, 2016
- FLNR presentation Ambient Groundwater Monitoring: Hullcar Aquifers No. 102 and 103 (PDF) - March 21, 2016
- IHA presentation Hullcar Area Nitrates (PDF) - March 21, 2016
- MOE presentation Surface and Ground Water Quality Review: Hullcar Aquifers (PDF) - March 17, 2016
- FLNR Review - Summary of Ambient Groundwater Monitoring of the Hullcar Aquifers No. 102 and 103 (PDF) - March 4, 2016
- MOE Review of the Hullcar Aquifer Water Quality Results (PDF) - February 15, 2016
- Nitrates in Groundwater - Ministry of Environment Water Stewardship Information Series (PDF) – February 2007
- Report on Groundwater Potential Evaluation for the Hullcar Area, Township of Spallumcheen, BC (Golder Associates) (PDF) - August 1, 2006
- The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner released their report on the disclosure of information related to water quality in Spallumcheen on June 29, 2016, the report is available in full on the OIPC website. The Minister of Environment responded to that report, and her statement can also be viewed on the Newsroom page.
- Action Plan Update - May 11, 2018 (PDF)
- Action Plan Update - September 5, 2017 (PDF)
- Action Plan Update - March 31, 2017 (PDF)
- Action Plan Update - February 22, 2017 (PDF)
- Action Plan Update - February 6, 2017 (PDF)
- Action Plan Update - January 23, 2017 (PDF)
- Action Plan Update - December 19, 2016 (PDF)
- Action Plan Update - December 5, 2016 (PDF)
- Action Plan Update - November 18, 2016 (PDF)
- Action Plan Update - November 4, 2016 (PDF)
- Action Plan Update - October 21, 2016 (PDF)
- Action Plan Update - October 11, 2016 (PDF)
- Action Plan Update - September 26, 2016 (PDF)
- Action Plan Update - September 10, 2016 (PDF)
- Action Plan Update – August 23, 2016 (PDF)
- Action Plan Update – July 20, 2016 (PDF)
- Action Plan Update - June 27, 2016 (PDF)
- Action Plan Update - June 6, 2016 (PDF)
Compliance inspections and managing environmental risk
Environmental Protection staff, have been in the Hullcar Valley conducting promotional compliance activities. Promotional compliance activities include distribution of material identifying best management practices, describing regulatory requirements under the Agriculture Waste Control Regulation, etc. to ensure agricultural operators are aware of their responsibilities. During some of the promotional compliance activities, formal inspections were conducted and the resulting inspection reports were completed. The inspection reports will be posted as they are completed and after the agricultural operators have had an opportunity to review and discuss the findings with the ministry as per Ministry Compliance Policy (PDF).
The Province issued pollution abatement orders (with requirements specific to the particular operation) to agricultural operators across Hullcar Valley. Pollution abatement orders are a tool to compel parties to take immediate action to manage risks to human health and the environment, and pollution prevention orders are a tool to compel parties to prevent the release of a substance into the environment that will cause pollution.
The purpose of all of the orders is to abate and prevent agricultural waste from entering Hullcar Aquifer 103 as the usefulness of the groundwater from the aquifer is currently compromised due to high level of nitrate in Steele Springs drinking water. Ministry staff will use orders where it is appropriate to ensure human health and the environment are protected.
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 license 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
108432 Kenneth Regehr Feedlot and Farm
- 2019-Sep-24 Order 108432 No Longer in Effect - KRegehr (PDF, 55KB)
- 2018-Jun-26 Annual Summary - KRegehr (PDF)
- 2017-Jun-30 Annual Summary – KRegehr (PDF, 5MB)
- 2016-Dec-23 Environmental Impact Study - KRegehr (PDF, 19.8MB)
- 2016-Nov-28 Director Letter - Confirmation of Dates - KRegehr (PDF)
- 2016-Sep-23 TOR and Work Plan Approval - KRegehr (PDF)
- 2016-Sep-23 TOR and Work Plan - KRegehr (PDF, 6.1MB)
- 2016-Jul-29 Pollution Prevention Order 108432 Amendment - KRegehr (PDF)
- 2016-May-18 Pollution Prevention Order 108432 - KRegehr (PDF)
- 2019-Sep-24 Order 108389 No Longer in Effect - Grace-Mar (PDF, 96KB)
- 2018-April-27 Annual Report – Grace-Mar (PDF, 3MB)
- 2017-Jun-29 Annual Report – Grace-Mar (PDF, 8MB)
- 2017-May-23 Pollution Abatement Order 108389 Amendment - Grace-Mar (PDF)
- 2017-Mar-01 Pollution Abatement Order 108389 Amendment - Grace-Mar (PDF)
- 2017-Feb-27 Environmental Impact Assessment - Grace-Mar (PDF, 18.2MB)
- 2017 Nutrient Management Plan v.2 - Grace-Mar (PDF 1.32MB)
- 2016-Sep-13 TOR and Work Plan Amendment Approval - Grace-Mar (PDF)
- 2016-Jul-29 TOR Approval - Grace-Mar (PDF)
- 2016-Jul-29 Pollution Abatement Order 108389 Amendment - Grace-Mar (PDF)
- 2016-Jun-28 TOR and Work Plan - Grace-Mar (PDF 3.34MB)
- 2016-May-12 Pollution Abatement Order 108389 - Grace-Mar (PDF)
- 2019-Sep-24 Order 108387 No Longer in Effect - Jansen (PDF, 95KB)
- 2018-Jun-01 2018 Nutrient Management Plan - Jansen (PDF, 2.6MB)
- 2017-Dec-18 Annual Summary - Jansen (PDF, 1.1MB)
- 2017-Sep-25 Pollution Abatement Order 108387 Amendment - Jansen (PDF)
- 2017-Sep-06 Pollution Abatement Order 108387 Amendment - Jansen (PDF)
- 2017-Jul-30 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Action Plan v.3 - Jansen (PDF)
- 2017-May-24 2017 Nutrient Management Plan - Jansen (PDF)
- 2017-Feb-27 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) - Jansen (PDF, 47MB)
- 2016-Oct-28 Pollution Abatement Order 108387 Amendment - Jansen (PDF)
- 2016-Jul-29 Pollution Abatement Order 108387 Amendment - Jansen (PDF)
- 2016-Jul Terms of Reference (TOR) and Work Plan - Jansen (PDF, 3.5MB)
- 2016-May-12 Pollution Abatement Order 108387 - Jansen (PDF)
- 2019-Sep-24 Order 108368 No Longer in Effect – Friesen (PDF, 132KB)
- 2017 Farm Book v.2 - Friesen (PDF)
- 2016 Jun-29 Pollution Abatement Order 108368 Amendment - Friesen (PDF)
- 2016 May-12 Pollution Abatement Order 108368 - Friesen (PDF)
- 2016 Farm Book v.2 - Friesen (PDF)
- 2017-Dec-01 Order 107156 No Longer in Effect - DRegehr (PDF)
- 2017-Nov-06 2018 NMP v.3 - DRegehr (PDF, 1.2MB)
- 2017-Nov-06 2017 NMP v.2 - DRegehr (PDF, 1.2MB)
- 2016 PHNS Soil Data - DRegehr (PDF, 1.7MB)
- 2014-2016 Well Water Nitrate Data - DRegehr (PDF, 3.4MB)
- 2014-2016 Nutrient Management Plan Soil Data - DRegehr (PDF, 6MB)
- 2014-2016 Annual Summaries - DRegehr (PDF)
- 2014-Mar-06 Information Order 107156 - DRegehr (PDF)
- 2016-Sep-30 Order 108371 No Longer in Effect - Huxley (PDF)
- 2016-Jul-18 2016 Manure & Nutrient Management Report - Huxley (PDF, 1.5MB)
- 2016-Jun-22 Polltuion Abatement Order 108371 Amendment - Huxley (PDF)
- 2016-May-12 Pollution Abatement Order 108371 - Huxley (PDF)
108431 Purple Springs Nursery Inc and Joe Klassen
- 2017-Jun-20 Order 108431 No Longer in Effect - Purple Springs (PDF)
- 2017 Farmbook - Purple Springs (PDF, 2.7MB)
- 2016-Jun-07 Pollution Prevention Order 108431 - Purple Springs (PDF)