Washington farms irked at border manure

Farmers say Canadian contaminants are heading south.

  • Sep. 6, 2016 10:00 p.m.

Larry Pynn

Special to the Langley Advance

Manure is hitting the fan in an escalating border dispute between B.C. and Washington state.

Whatcom County farmers are asking their governor to lobby B.C. to crack down on farm waste flowing south from Fraser Valley agricultural lands near Zero Avenue and fouling cross-border fish-bearing streams.

State farmers say they are doing their part, with stream improvements and state legislation designed to control manure run-off from dairy farms, but say enforcement remains lax at best on the B.C. side of the border.

Third-generation crop farmer Scott Bedlington, chair of the county’s Ag Water Board, writes in a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee: “We farm land that is drained and irrigated by several streams along the U.S.-Canadian border.

“Our efforts are severely compromised by what goes on just north of the border.”

He specifically sites issues with Bertrand and Fishtrap creeks. Both flow into the Nooksack River, where aboriginal shellfish harvesting has been closed due to excessive fecal-coliform levels.

Farms near Bertrand Creek in south Langley include cattle, horse and mushroom operations. There are also concerns that dams on small feeder streams in B.C. are restricting the flow of water to the detriment of fish, especially in summer.

Postmedia recently visited Zero Avenue just west of 264 Street and spotted a small stream dammed and a pipe extending from the water reservoir onto a nursery operation.

Greig Bethel, spokesman for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, said officials are aware of state concerns and “have completed site visits, and are currently reviewing all relevant water licences for any irregularities.”

In an interview, Bedlington added: “Whatcom County farmers are under huge restrictions and regulations, locally and at the state level. We’ve done lots of projects to build up the habitat. We’re continually under the gun.

“Now we need to see where Canada plays in this. We need to work together.”

Whatcom County farmers have also produced a slick video showing dried up stream beds and dying juvenile salmon to highlight their concerns.

In 1998, Washington state approved the Dairy Nutrient Management Act. Farmers are required to develop and follow manure management plans and there are regular inspections. No such legislation exists in B.C. Since 2009, the Ministry of Environment has been reviewing changes to the Agriculture Waste Control Regulation to tackle the widespread problem of livestock manure and other agricultural waste threatening the environment and human health.

While noting proper application of manure supports healthy crop growth, a government review document warns that excess nutrients from agricultural waste, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, encourage algae growth. This depletes the oxygen content of water, which can kill fish and other creatures, and can pollute human drinking water.

Suspended solids and sediments entering water from soil erosion and run-off also decrease water quality. Emissions, such as ammonia and particulate matter, from manure and other livestock operations, such as incinerators, threaten respiratory health, the document adds.

Ministry of Environment spokesman David Karn said the government has been consulting with an agriculture industry working group.

The main issues are groundwater and surface water quality, air quality and cumulative impacts from agricultural activities, he said. The latest estimate for a draft of the revised regulation is late 2016.

After years of dickering, even B.C. dairy leaders suggest it’s time for action, noting there are still concerns about blanket rules and how they might affect individual farmers.

“The government is going to make rules,” said Tom Hoogendoorn, an Agassiz dairy farmer and vice-chair of the B.C. Milk Marketing Board. “Maybe the time has come.”

He added: “It’s frustrating for those who do our best to have farmers who aren’t doing their best.”

Jeremy Wiebe, also a board member, added there’s no excuse for spreading manure on a field when there are no crops growing. The chances of manure leaching into creeks increases during wet winter weather.

“You’re not getting any value out of it. You’re basically just getting rid of the manure. It’s a valuable resource. To store it and use it during the growing season only makes sense.”

– Larry Pynn is a reporter for the Vancouver Province. Read more Province stories HERE

 

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