By David Reily, Little Campbell River Watershed Society
Dan Ferguson of the Langley Times recently published an article in the Langley Times and Peace Arch News about manure runoff contaminating a waterway in Whatcom County.
Some Washington State farmers say the quality of the water coming across the border from Langley and Abbotsford has worsened over the past two years, due to a combination of unusually low water levels and fecal contamination.
Farmer Scott Bedlington, chair of the Whatcom County Ag Water Board, said the cross-border flow of water into Washington State from streams in Langley and Abbotsford has been the lowest his family has seen in 70 years.
That was the case both last year when weather conditions were unusually hot and this year when conditions were closer to normal.
“There’s something happening up there (in B.C.),” Bedlington told The Times.
“All of a sudden, there’s no water coming down the streams.”
The Ag Water Board is a non-profit agency that represents six Watershed Improvement Districts (WIPs) within Whatcom County that “participate in cooperative watershed management actions … for purposes of water supply, water quality, water resource, and habitat protection and management,” according to the board website.
Last month, the board sent a letter, signed by Bedlington, to Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, urging him to contact the B.C. government about the water level drop.
A copy was provided to The Times.
The letter complained that the board has been working to improve water quality, including habitat restoration, reducing water pumping from streams and augmenting stream flows at low-flow periods, but those efforts have been “severely compromised by what goes on just north of the border.”
“In the past weeks we have seen several of our trans-boundary streams dried up,” the letter says.
“It is disheartening to see fish dying in heated pools when the water that sustains them is no longer flowing south across the border. It also makes all our efforts to increase stream flows feel inconsequential.”
The letter suggests the water is being dammed on the BC side by farmers illicitly diverting waterways to irrigate their crops.
The letter mentions two specific streams that feed water across the border, Perry Homestead Brook near the Aldergrove border crossing, and Pepin Creek, near the Abbotsford airport.
It does not talk about the problem of fecal contamination, but Bedlington (pictured) said that is also a perennial concern for Washington farmers.
Right now, he said, because of the current drop in water levels, contamination isn’t really a problem, but he expects it will become one again when the rain picks up in about five weeks and starts washing manure into waterways.
Bedlington stressed the issue of fecal contamination exists on both sides of the border.
“It’s not a one-sided deal,” Bedlington said, adding a solution must involve both B.C. and Washington authorities.
Development of the Langley and Abbotsford areas may be contributing to the water contamination problem, said Reg Ens, the executive director of the B.C. Agriculture Council (BCAC), which represents over 14,000 B.C. farmers and ranchers and close to 30 farm sector associations.
Ens said singling out the “very intensive” agriculture sector as a contributor to water contamination doesn’t allow for the impact of more septic systems and runoff from residential areas that can’t soak up as much water.
He said BCAC members generally favour steps to improve water quality protection.
“Fundamentally, what our members are saying is, we don’t want to pollute,” Ens said.
Farms on both the Washington State and the B.C. side have been fined under existing regulations for contaminating fish-bearing streams.
A review of existing farm waste control regulations in B.C. is currently underway involving an agriculture industry working group consisting of industry sector representatives, the BC Agriculture Council and the Ministry of Agriculture.
The review includes an examination of the rules that govern using, storing and managing agricultural wastes and by-products, such as manure and composted materials.
A draft version of the revised regulations is expected by the end of this year.
This news story (http://www.peacearchnews.com/news/392515681.html) recently appeared locally. You’ll notice how polite the Americans are being about the entire situation. Does all this have bearing on what’s happening these days in the Hazelmere Valley ?
Two federal , one state and one provincial government all have jurisdiction over the water issues mentioned in this article (basically quantity and quality). Over the years these governments have signed and legislated numerous agreements concerning cross border watersheds. And until the Harper government there existed an active Committee called the Shared Waters Alliance (SWA) which dealt with just the type of issues mentioned in this article. The remit was to reduce pollution in Semiahmoo Bay where sustenance, recreational and commercial harvest of bivalves have all ceased due to health concerns (except for numerous poachers). This committee was comprised of personnel from the State of Washington Governor’s Office, Washington Fish & Wildlife Dept, the Washington Department of Ecology, Port of Bellingham, City of Blaine Engineering, Drayton Harbour Shellfish Protection District Advisory Committee, Drayton Harbour Community Oyster Farm, Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, BC Ministry of Environment and BC Ministry of Agriculture, City of Surrey Engineering, Semiahmoo First Nation, Friends of Semiahmoo Bay Society and the little Campbell Watershed Society.
The City of Surrey was one of its strongest champions. When Mr. Harpers’ government cut all funding and participation, Metro Vancouver took up some of the slack for a couple of years and then gave up (difficult to carry on if most of your funding has dried up and some federal and provincial counterparts are missing in action). The Americans at the table stayed to the bitter end gradually watching the Canadians continue to drop the ball. This after it had become increasingly clear that the Canadians were the ones not pulling their weight . For years Canadians had blamed the Blaine sewage treatment plant for the high fecal counts on both sides of the marine border but it soon became clear that Canadian agriculture, Canadian septic fields and the City of White Rock plumbing were front and centre in the areas needing improvement. White Rock eventually replaced the low capacity sanitary line which was overflowing into the Little Campbell River, thus decreasing fecal counts in the Little Campbell Estuary. But by the time the Committee was finally making some progress, the biggest player took his marbles home.
How does this relate to what’s in this recent article? First we see the same two issues – water quantity and quality – that dominated SWA efforts. Secondly, once again on the US side we see polite frustration with the Canucks who often appear to be using more study as a proxy for action.
While it’s difficult to ascertain how much increased development in the Hazelmere Valley will impact drinking or irrigation water across the line (much of the Hazelmere Valley is downstream in the watershed), we know it will impact marine and terrestrial habitats, including those of Drayton Harbour. So there will be two- way traffic in terms of net effects.
Talking across the border about future changes in the U.S. portion of the Little Campbell watershed while planning for more development on the Canadian side makes perfect sense but how receptive would the U.S. be given our record of dissimulation?
How can concerned citizens who want Canada to be a good neighbour and also see intelligent development on the Canadian side help?
Writing to MP Diane Watts (who supported the SWA while she was Mayor of Surrey) and asking her to prod the new federal government into action (renewal of the of the SWA) would not hurt.